LISTEN: Anchorage police monitoring for threats, preparing for protests

The downtown headquarters of the Anchorage Police Department on June 9, 2020 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)
Anchorage Police Chief Justin Doll (Anchorage Police Department)

Anchorage police say they’re monitoring online activity and accepting tips about any violent upcoming political protests or rallies in the city.

That’s after the FBI warned in a leaked memo earlier this week that armed rallies are planned in all fifty states in advance of the inauguration of Joe Biden.

While Anchorage Police Chief Justin Doll said residents might see a bigger police presence at some government buildings, Doll said there are currently no specific threats of violence.

LISTEN HERE:

Anchorage police said concerned residents with tips about anything suspicious can call 311 or visit muni.org/apd to give a report. And, of course, anyone facing an imminent threat should call 911.

Read the full transcript of the interview, with minor edits for clarity:

Casey Grove: How concerned are you about possible violence in Alaska?


Justin Doll: I’m actually not that concerned about it right now. We’re not seeing any indicators that there is any sort of event planned, or that something is bubbling up. I think that, you know, as always, you see some rhetoric online, but we’re closely monitoring that.

And over the last year, we’ve even proven that Alaskans are very responsible. If Alaskans don’t agree with their government, they feel comfortable protesting, they feel comfortable participating in the government process, but in a responsible way that still allows them to have their voices be heard. We didn’t see some of the violence that other cities saw. And I have a lot of faith in Alaskans’ ability to do that appropriately.

That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be vigilant. APD is sort of in a constant planning and evaluation posture right now. And we’re going to continue to do that. I think it’s important that we do that — it helps reassure the community, but it’s good for us to make sure that we’re prepared. But I don’t have any specific concerns right now.

CG: One thing that we’ve heard nationally is that people are planning armed rallies. And that part, the armed part, feels a little different than some of the protests that we’ve seen in the last year. So I thought I’d ask: What do you think about people potentially carrying weapons at rallies?

JD: Well, I’ve heard some noise about that, too. Again, we haven’t seen any indication that that’s something that’s building here in Anchorage, although I think we have seen some people exercising open carry, because that’s legal in Alaska, at some of the rallies that we’ve had.

But also: it’s Alaska. I mean, I think people are very accustomed to being places where everyone is armed, because we all spend time in the outdoors. And it’s not something that is sort of socially shocking in Alaska. Alaskans know how to behave responsibly with their firearms. And I would hope that would continue if there was some sort of rally where that was a theme.

CG: Does APD have its own people for monitoring potential threats online? Or is that something you rely more on the state or the FBI for?

JD: We all do it together. APD, Department of Public Safety and the FBI all have folks that are assigned to do those things. For APD, it’s part of our crime analysis section. We have some intel analysts.

And I always want to be — just personally but also professionally, as a chief of police — I want to be aware and cognizant of not inappropriately monitoring the things that the public is doing.But we want to be responsible and monitor for threats as well.

So that’s what we’re looking for: threats of violence. People exercising their free speech — we don’t have any concerns about that at all. But people indicating that they’re specifically considering some act of violence, that’s what we’re looking for. And we share information between all three of those agencies on a daily basis, typically multiple times a day.

CG: In the last week, Twitter and Facebook have shut down accounts and different groups and people have had to go elsewhere. Parler got shut down as well. I don’t know how much you can really even say about this, but in terms of how they’re monitoring people, are your folks or the state or FBI folks aware that people have moved into these other, harder-to-track, maybe encrypted channels?

JD: Well, I think the best thing I can say about that is, you know, we’re aware that the communication channels change from time to time, and we’re confident in our ability to continue to watch for threats of violence.

CG: It feels like the tension is definitely really ratcheted up. And that kind of seems like an open-ended issue. When do you kind of see things calming down?

JD: Well, I think we all hope that 2021 would be better than 2020. It’s not starting out great. But I hope that once the inauguration occurs, and that issue is sort of settled, that we can begin to kind of spin down.

I also am very hopeful that everyone in the country sees the violence at the Capitol for what it was. And, you know, I think there has been lots of participation all over the political spectrum and very contentious political speech, and I would hope that everybody would see the violence at the Capitol as the end state of that and maybe ratchet it back a little bit. So, I think just personally, I’m hopeful that, nationally, we start to see things calm down over the next month or two as we work our way towards spring.