Anchorage’s new police chief wants to prioritize building community trust

A man in a police uniform smiles for a photo in front of flags
Acting Anchorage Police Chief Ken McCoy poses for a photo in the Anchorage Police headquarters in downtown on May 7, 2021. (Hannah Lies/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage Police Department’s Acting Chief Kenneth McCoy made history last month when he was appointed Anchorage’s first Black police chief. Previously, McCoy was deputy chief: He has been with the department for 27 years. He said his top priority will be building trust in the community, particularly with communities of color.

“As long as there are members of the community who don’t feel safe, or are mistrustful or fear the police in this department, we have work to do,” he said.

McCoy said one way to work at that relationship is to make the department more reflective of the community. According to data from last summer, only about a fifth of Anchorage’s sworn officers are non-white, while the city as a whole is more than a third non-white.

McCoy said recruiting into law enforcement is difficult in general right now. Recruiting people of color, who may not trust the profession, is another challenge.

APD recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. McCoy said part of the reason it has taken so long for there to be a Black chief could be that the pool of minority officers has traditionally been small.

“Our work is cut out. We’re really going to have to work closely with those communities to build and earn trust, to get people interested in joining the force,” he said.

McCoy said he also wants to see officers trained in areas like implicit bias and cultural competency starting at the police academy and throughout their careers. 

McCoy’s appointment came weeks before the mayoral runoff election, and it is unclear whether he will continue as the permanent chief after the new mayor takes office. Candidate Forrest Dunbar has said he would like McCoy to stay on, but Dave Bronson has been more ambivalent, saying he wants to conduct a thorough vetting process for the position. 

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Kavitha George is the host of Alaska Morning News at Alaska Public Media. She also reports on business, labor and the economy. Reach her at kgeorge@alaskapublic.org.