Two weeks ago, Anchorage Police Department Deputy Chief Ken McCoy was promoted to Acting Chief by Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson upon the early retirement of Chief Justin Doll.
Whether the interim tag will be dropped from McCoy’s handle is up to the next mayor, who will take office in July. As of Wednesday morning, Forrest Dunbar and Dave Bronson were virtually tied in the runoff election to be the next mayor with about 8,000 votes still to be counted.
If Dunbar hangs on to his microscopic lead, he will make McCoy Anchorage’s first Black police chief, while Bronson has said that he will open the position up and hire the best candidate who applies, which, he says, may or may not be McCoy.
It’s hard to imagine that if Bronson were to win that he would begin his administration with a move as politically foolish as to hire someone other than McCoy, but presumably his stance is merely a genuflect to the idea of egalitarianism.
It’s also hard to imagine there being anyone more qualified than McCoy, even in a bar-none field of candidates. He came on board the department around the same time as Doll 27 years ago and was promoted to Deputy Chief in 2017.
“I always anticipated I would get this opportunity and with Chief Doll announcing his retirement I knew this day would come,” McCoy said in an interview at APD downtown headquarters last Friday. “I knew this day would come and when the acting mayor asked me to step into the role, I was definitely prepared.”
McCoy said his new role requires a different approach to daily police work.
“As deputy chief, I was really focused on operations — what are patrol officers doing? What cases are we working on?” McCoy said. “As I move into the chief role, it is slightly shifted to being closely engaged with the community; truly hearing and listening to their issues to build trust.”
McCoy openly supports the guilty verdict in the murder trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin and speaks about the importance of building ties with communities of color, and embracing more modern and progressive approaches to police work.
His tone doesn’t exactly match that of Bronson, who in a letter to APD employees dated April 10 detailed his positions in bullet points that included:
• I believe that some divisions of (Black Lives Matter) are violent and clearly anti-American.
• I believe that The Thin Blue Line is the last line of defense between civilization and anarchy.
As we wait for the results of the mayoral election to be certified by May 25, McCoy finds himself too busy to worry about things he can’t control.
“I’m focused on what I can do now, so I am working daily on building better relationships with the community, meeting with every group in the Police Department and really just touching base with our officers, reinforcing that they have my full support and the support of the community as well,” McCoy said. “Our focus is on the mission at hand. Things will fall into place… I’m focused on keeping the city safe.”
There probably couldn’t have been a better time for McCoy to make the transition to Chief. The department has moved its primary headquarters into the old LIO building on 4th Avenue, the challenges associated with COVID are increasingly in the rear view, and just last week APD released a snazzy new website full of interactive content and data.
Perhaps the only downside to hiring McCoy full-time is that if all goes well it might not be long before larger cities in the Lower 48 come calling for the services of the Bartlett High and UAA grad.
In the midst of all the craziness and uncertainty of the transition, McCoy found some time last Friday for a brief Q&A.
What’s changed most at the APD
over the last couple of years?
Over the last year after the George Floyd murder there’s been a lot of focus nationwide and locally directed to PD’s and their relationships to the community — and with that we’re really talking about communities of color. What’s come out of that is that we’ve learned many communities of color don’t trust law enforcement. Some have really lost confidence in the criminal justice system as a whole. I have been having conversations with those communities through last summer, continued to this point, and for me, building that trust is of the utmost importance because if we don’t have the trust of the people we are not going to be an effective police department… I’m very thankful for the support we have in Anchorage and we have a very good department — some of the finest men and women in the profession work here and what we don’t want is for a bad situation to happen, so we’re doing the preventative work now, reaching out and engaging to build better relationships with the community. So if one day we had a bad situation we would be able to work together to resolve it if we have established that level of trust.
You’ve talked about having body cameras on all officers. Are body cams the silver bullet solution some people think they are?
It all comes back to trust and having body cameras and having that level of transparency helps build trust. Before we implement any body cameras and policies I want to hear from the community. We’re going to have a community discussion the week of June 14… People can talk with me about their thoughts and concerns and expectations with body-borne cameras and take those recommendations back to the table to start developing policy. It really has to be something the community has faith in… Is it a silver bullet solution? It can be if we do it right and meet expectations.
What was your reaction to the Derek Chauvin verdict?
It was definitely the right verdict. Without a doubt, George Floyd was murdered and I was very pleased the process worked and he was convicted.
With all the scrutiny police are under these days, it’s a tough time to be a cop. Does that make it harder to find quality recruits?
It does make it a challenge, but if you ask anyone in law enforcement — and we can look at the situation in Minneapolis with the murder of George Floyd; that’s a crime and should not occur anywhere — but setting that aside, as a profession, we have work to do. But there’s other things we should do. We should listen and evaluate and make sure we’re serving the community in the compassionate and effective manner possible.
Recruitment is a challenge for law enforcement across the board and that has only intensified in the last year. Across the country there’s a record number retiring or leaving forces. It’s no different here. We’ve seen several people retire — four in the last week alone — so it’s a challenge recruiting and retaining right now.
What was your experience with police growing up?
I wanted to be police since I was a young boy. It was a profession I found to be honorable and aspired to be. It’s very important in this day and age for our young people to get inspired also. That’s part of the responsibility I have in this role. For a young African American or any child of color to see someone in this position an African American man, that inspires them to say, ‘hey, I can follow that path; I can achieve in that profession. Those little moments are what it’s all about.
What’s your reaction when you hear people say ‘defund the police’?
That type of terminology — it’s not productive. We know what a defunded police department looks like. That was us four years ago when we weren’t adequately staffed and you couldn’t go anywhere without someone telling you about their experience with their car getting stolen or their home getting broken into.
That level of crime was taking place so when we adequately staffed we were able to address those prime concerns… Could we place resources in other areas to help make the community better? Yes, I totally agree with that. One thing we’re we’re trying to get up and running here is having a crisis mental health responder — a behavior and mental health professional who can respond anywhere in a crisis. I fully support funding and supporting other entities in the community that can help address areas of concern but it should not come at the detriment of the police department because, again, we know what a defunded police department looks like.
What advice did Chief Doll have for you?
Chief Doll and I were really promoted at the same time — when he became chief, I became deputy chief. We had a great partnership as we helped grow the department towards where we are now.
He’s excited to be moving on to retirement and he imparted to me that he was just thrilled to be leaving the department in my hands because he knows I had a hand in getting us where we are and he knows we’re going to continue on this path of greatness.