Businesses, police concerned by persistent problem
ANCHORAGE – It was a sunny Friday afternoon, and the three people sitting on a bench in Town Square Park were passing around a pipe filled with an unknown substance.
Soon, the group had grown to more than a dozen people, surreptitiously drawing from the small pipe and passing it along to the next person. Shoppers, workers on their lunch breaks and mothers pushing children in strollers passed by on the sidewalk just a few feet away.
“It’s probably Spice,” said Officer Cyndi Addington, who’s spent months patrolling the area, trying to fight rising crime at the popular downtown park.
Statistics compiled by the Anchorage Police Department show calls for service at the park have been on the rise in recent years, and local business owners say they’ve seen the disturbing trend firsthand.
“I’ve seen drinking, I’ve seen marijuana smoking, I’ve seen indecent exposure and nudity,” said Brian Williams, who manages the 6th Ave. Outfitters just across the street from Town Square Park. “The problem with all of those crimes – and they seem relatively minor – is that they’re day to day.”
Businesses like Kobuk Coffee Co. and the Alaska Native Arts Foundation have installed additional security systems and surveillance cameras to fight the growing problem, but the measures have done little to curb the wave of crime.
“To me, since 2006 it has really gotten worse down here,” said Carrie Swanson, who’s worked across the street from the park for several years.
Nina Bonito Romine, co-owner of Kobuk Coffee Co., said she and her employees work to keep the property free of human waste and drug paraphernalia on a daily basis. Metal grates cover the back windows of her store following a streak of vandalism. Romine said her shop, which abuts Town Square Park, was forced to close a back patio space when the smell of illicit activity in the park made it unbearable to customers.
”It’s definitely gotten worse,” she said.
Addington said officers’ efforts to combat crime in the park are frustrated by slight resources and repeat offenders. Five school resource officers police the downtown area on bikes during the summer months, but when school resumes in the fall, the park is monitored only by regular patrols. And when officers arrive at the park in response to a call, Addington said the perpetrators scatter, only to return as soon as the police move on.
“This should be where you want to bring your children and your families,” she said. “I don’t want to do that right now with this kind of activity going on in this park.”
“People ask me, you know, ‘Is it safe to go through the park?’” she said. “I say ‘No, if I were you I would walk around,’ which is sad.”
Standing in the sun outside the Performing Art Center, Addington prepared to go break up the crowd loitering on the concrete risers in the park. The pipe had disappeared when her squad car pulled up to the curb, but the crowd remained, waiting and watching.
“This is the pride of Anchorage right here,” she said, looking towards the otherwise-empty town square. “I think we’re failing.”