Anchorage police increase efforts to diversify mostly white department

ANCHORAGE — Anchorage police Chief Chris Tolley says the department is increasing its recruitment efforts to ensure it more accurately represents the city’s racial diversity.

“It’s going to be a challenge for the department as well as the community,” Tolley told the Alaska Dispatch News. “We don’t want to just recruit bodies. We want a staff that reflects the diversity of Anchorage. So what we’re doing is taking a hard look at different groups and making sure we’re doing our best to get good representations for each of them.”

According to data from June 2015, nearly 83 percent of the department’s 507 sworn and unsworn officers were white. Asians accounted for 4.7 percent; blacks, 3.9 percent; Hispanics, 3.7 percent; American Indians, 2.6 percent; and multiracial/other made up the remaining 2.4 percent. Police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said the demographics from the latest figures available are likely unchanged, as the total number of officers has only increased by a few since then.

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, who has praised Anchorage’s diverse population, has committed public funds to increase the number of Anchorage officers.

“We have a great opportunity right now,” Tolley said. “Funding is in place, which we needed before we could even take the appropriate steps to bring more people on board.”

Tolley said the department plans to reach out to leaders in various communities, including the Korean, Japanese and LGBT communities, to get more applicants from different parts of the city.

“We want to try to get community leaders who are comfortable with working with us to help us use our resources best,” Tolley said. “Breaking down any possible barriers.”

Brad Myrstol, associate professor at University of Alaska Anchorage’s Justice Center, said an obstacle that police departments face with recruitment is that many people are unwilling to apply because of negative associations they have with police.

“It becomes difficult for police to change those perceptions,” Myrstol said. “An important aspect of changing those perceptions is improving relationships with minority communities and changing the demographics of police departments.”

Myer Hutchinson, a spokesman for Berkowitz, said recruiting diverse officers remains a top priority for the city.

“While putting more officers on the street is our top priority, the mayor wants a department that better reflects the community. We believe these goals are not mutually exclusive and look forward to working with APD to do both,” Hutchinson said.


Information from: Alaska Dispatch News,

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