ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The police department in Alaska's largest city is facing a serious shortage of officers, an Anchorage police official said.
''There really is a crisis at APD,'' said Sgt. Gary Apperson, a patrol supervisor. ''There's just not enough cops to do what needs to be done.''
Twenty-three police officer positions stand vacant, and Mayor George Wuerch's proposed 2002 budget would freeze those spots until next October.
Public safety advocates plan to fight the freeze, and some Anchorage Assembly members are looking for another part of the budget to cut instead.
''If the message is we don't have enough cops to respond to the problems, that's going to open the door for people to think they can get away with things,'' said Randy Smith, Mountain View Community Patrol chairman. ''It spawns illegal activity.''
Assemblywoman Cheryl Clementson is among those concerned about leaving police positions vacant, especially when the nation is at war.
''The first thing we have to provide is public safety,'' she said.
To make matters worse, between now and July, 78 officers will become eligible to retire. Supervisors said they are aware of 40 or so officers who have applied to become federal air marshals since the Sept. 11 attacks. And an additional 27 officers are National Guard members or military reservists who could be activated for the war on terrorism.
''If everyone were to walk out the door, it would have a major impact,'' said Capt. Tom Nelson, who oversees staff services. ''We're trying to keep everyone on board.''
The mayor's plan to put off funding the 23 officer positions until the last quarter of next year is one of his most controversial cuts in a budget that has about $12 million less to spend on services than this year.
Wuerch said he views his proposal as merely slowing down the Police Department's growth. The mayor's proposal would delay filling 32 vacant police positions until the fourth quarter of next year. In addition to the 23 officers, seven spots in dispatch and two in administrative management would not be funded for the first nine months of 2002. That would result in a savings of $1.8 million.
If Wuerch's plan is approved without changes, APD's budget would shrink from $45.5 million this year to $44.7 million in 2002.
Deputy Chief Mark Mew said the positions are vacant because of a wave of retirements and other departures last fall and the department has been recruiting to fill them.
Police Chief Walt Monegan said it's hard for him to make promotions because they would further thin the ranks of officers on the street, so he's letting some top jobs go unfilled for the time being.
Monegan had also hoped to boost community policing by September, but that has not happened and plans are on hold until more officers can be hired.
Monegan would like to create a traffic enforcement unit and an 11-officer community policing squad so those officers can focus on specific assignments and neighborhoods while shift officers respond to calls.
The Anchorage Assembly will have a public hearing on Wuerch's budget proposal Tuesday evening. Chairman Dick Traini wants the budget approved Nov. 20.
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