APD gets rid of citizen DUI task force
Anchorage police introduced a bold initiative during the summer of 2013 after a rash of drunk driving deaths — citizen patrols. However, as of Wednesday, the program has been eliminated completely.
The department organized the use of citizen volunteer patrols to find and report drunk drivers to police, who in turn, arrested them. Former Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew was fed up with the numerous DUI deaths, which included 15-year-olds Jordyn Durr and Brooke McPheters.
Prior to five drunk driving deaths in the span of several weeks, Anchorage didn’t have any DUI-related deaths for about 14 months after the inception of the program. APD said tips from citizen patrols resulted in at least 150 DUI arrests as of last summer. There have been many more since, but the department didn’t have current numbers for the last year.
Volunteers also donated 2,000 hours of their time over the same period, according to APD.
On Wednesday, KTVA learned that police have eliminated the DUI citizen patrol effective immediately. Disappointing news for Gary McPheters, father of 15-year-old Brooke whose death spurred the program. He was one of many who cruised the streets of Anchorage as part of the citizen patrol.
“As for them to abolish it, it just opens those wounds again,” McPheters told KTVA.
APD Capt. Bill Miller cited a number of reasons for eliminating the patrols. First, he says participation dwindled to just a couple volunteers. APD also says the program cost between $20,000 and $30,000 a year in gas and equipment for volunteers.
But there were even more concerns. Miller said the volunteers were “agents of police” and as such APD was responsible for them, creating a liability for the department. Legal issues could arise if volunteers caused a crash while following the drivers.
APD says it is examining how to use volunteers more effectively and that it’s possible DUI task force volunteers may be brought back at some point as the department re-evaluates things.
“Volunteerism at the Anchorage Police Department isn’t going away. The face of it changes every now and again, but it’s not going anywhere,” said Miller.
In the meantime, the Report Every Dangerous Driver Immediately (REDDI) program continues. APD also says it would not discourage drivers from heading out on their own and reporting drunk drivers, so long as there is no connection to APD.
Monday, chief Chris Tolley and Mayor Ethan Berkowitz announced a new unit that includes six officers specifically designated to find drunk drivers.
Joe Vigil can be reach at email@example.com