Alaska police leaders respond to question on “demilitarizing” at the Summit

by Tim Hinterberger, ALPHA past president

The 2022 Alaska Health Summit is now history, and those of us involved in planning and running it have had a week to relax and reflect.

The Summit theme “The Intersection of Public Health and Public Safety” clearly resonated, being referenced by a number of speakers in their presentations. It’s the intersection where many of Alaska’s public health professionals work, every day, so we knew it would be a popular topic. But it’s not often explicitly acknowledged that the boundary between those two professional areas can be blurred.

That’s why we took the unusual step of inviting leaders of three of Alaska’s law enforcement agencies, the Anchorage and Juneau police departments and the state troopers, to join a panel discussion. Captain Asselin, Chief Mercer and Colonel Barlow offered their views on the public safety aspects of their agencies’ missions and even followed up by email with responses to Summit attendees’ questions that there wasn’t time for live.

In response to the question, “How are Alaska police departments and the troopers actively demilitarizing? What is the long-term intention in armament and hiring of former military personnel?” Captain Asselin wrote, “The Anchorage Police Department has progressive policies to identify and limit which tools we can use under certain extraordinary circumstances…[to] guard against the traditional view of the ‘militarization’ of the APD.  We will continue to evaluate and balance the need for our officers to be properly equipped to safely respond to the most dangerous and challenging circumstances.”

He added, “In terms of hiring of former military personnel, we are honored that so many citizens chose to come to APD to continue their life of public service.  Our laws, training and policies prevent traditional military tactics and tools from being used in police situations.”

Juneau’s Chief Mercer also replied, in part, “JPD also has very defined practices in place that limit the use of special equipment.  We recognize public perception is equally important in how local law enforcement is viewed.” Regarding personnel he stated, “Veterans do not receive specialized treatment and must pass the entire hiring process like any other applicant… JPD currently has 12 officers who are veterans, from all branches of the US military.  We are proud of their service and desire to continue to serve the public as police officers.”

Colonel Barlow responded at some length, including to say, “All state troopers, regardless of their background, must operate within the confines of the policies, procedures, training, and authorized equipment recognized by the Department of Public Safety… The Department recognizes and has benefited from the experience and perspective former military members bring.  The varied backgrounds and experiences of DPS employees significantly enriches the Department’s capability to conduct the public safety mission.”

ALPHA is pleased that the Summit could be a forum for frank exchange of views on these issues that are clearly important to our members. We don’t often have opportunities to pose such pointed questions to our public safety officials, and to get them answered.

If you appreciate the dialog on public health/public safety that this Summit enabled, we hope you will continue to support ALPHA and urge your friends and co-workers to as well. Your engagement with ALPHA, perhaps even by serving on a committee or helping to plan the next Summit, will allow us to grow and let us do more to serve the community.