Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan Explains Why He Vetoed $200,000 Appropriation For A New Police Academy Class And Is Delaying It Until Fall 2011

On May 4th, 2010, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoed a $200,000 appropriation made by the Anchorage Assembly in this year's budget for a police training academy class originally projected for early 2011. Led by rookie East Anchorage Assemblyman Paul Honeman, a former cop, the Assembly supported the addition in a 6-5 vote on April 27th.

In explanation, Sullivan said, "While I appreciate the amendment's intent, the question is not whether to hold a police academy but rather when it is most appropriate." The mayor also said in a written statement that his administration intends to hold a police academy in late 2011, after preparing a 2011 budget and completing an audit of how the Anchorage Police Department deploys its forces. This would give the new police chief Mark Mew more time to properly review his department's operations.

Honeman disagreed. He wanted money put in this year's budget to ensure that an academy to train new officers could be held in the first quarter of next year. He states it takes months of preparation, including psychological exams and purchase of $45,000 to $50,000 worth of ammunition, to launch an academy class. Honeman cited the fact that APD has lost 43 officers since January 2009 as a reason for his urgency. But Honeman's efforts to override the mayoral veto failed on May 25th when he could only scare up seven of the necessary votes; eight votes from the 11-member Assembly are needed to override a veto.

But Mayor Sullivan disagrees with Honeman's numbers. In a letter to the editor published May 27th in the Anchorage Press, Sullivan explains:

He [Brendan Joel Kelley, who authored an article entitled "Living Dangerously", to which Sullivan is responding] quotes Paul Honeman as saying we have lost 43 officers since January 2009. That is incorrect. The number of budgeted positions declined by 31, but we currently have 382 actual sworn officers on the street, the most at any time in the last decade. He quotes Mike Gutierrez saying that at a work session I wondered whether we had too many police officers. That is also incorrect. I stated that the increase in the police department of nearly ninety officers over the last few years may not be sustainable given our budget challenges. Gutierrez is one of the assembly members who voted for the extremely generous labor contracts during a time of declining city revenues. He only needs to look in the mirror if he wants to know why public safety and all city departments are scrambling to maintain services. Finally, Kelley reports that the crime rate is up 8 percent in 2009. With all the additional officers added over the last few years, one would think that crime would be on the decline. Clearly the number of officers is only one part of the equation.

It is interesting that crime has increased by eight percent despite the addition of more cops, much of the increase in police strength taking place during the administration of Mark Begich. Thus it is prudent to allow Mark Mew a sufficient opportunity to audit existing resources before throwing more money at a problem.

If Mayor Sullivan wanted to delay the next police academy for one or two years, I would be concerned. But a six-month delay won't be a problem; it will give APD time to screen prospective candidates more thoroughly. APD's standards are high, and only a small number who apply for an academy class get accepted.

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