ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A special unit established to handle low-level neighborhood crime has been folded because of a manpower shortage in the Anchorage Police Department.
The five-officer Special Assignment Unit targeted drug houses and other community nuisances. Recently, the squad arrested 16 people for soliciting and practicing prostitution in two stings along the Spenard Road business corridor.
Unit supervisor Sgt. Steven Hebbe and his four officers will return to the patrol division for at least the rest of this year.
Hebbe said the ability of police to respond to such neighborhood concerns will now be reduced due to the disbanding of the special unit.
''If you've got prostitutes in front of you or you've got somebody next door who's got a marijuana grow that you or the kids are smelling, that's a problem for you,'' said Hebbe. ''In the short term, there's going to be a drop-off of responsiveness by the police on issues like that.''
The Police Department has been plagued by a staffing shortage lately, with more retirements and departures expected this summer.
Disbanding the unit doesn't please those who want more community policing. Sam O'Connor, chairman of the Westside Community Patrol, and his citizen volunteers often cruise through Spenard keeping an eye out for trouble. O'Connor wasn't aware the special unit's work had wrapped up.
''That's going to create a huge problem if they're not going to do some special stings,'' he said. Drug dealers and prostitutes ''will just increase their activity.''
O'Connor said after the two recent stings he's observed a remarkable decline in crime. He wishes police had the manpower to continue the special unit and keep making such arrests.
''Whenever there is a sting going on, for the next few days you don't see hardly any activity going on out here,'' he said. ''It'll never go away but we can try to slow it down.''
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