Detectives in the vice unit at the Anchorage Police Department often go unnoticed, as their work necessitates going undercover to track down people involved in prostitution, illegal gambling and drugs. The latter is now a more important part of their mission, as APD recently announced it would refocus the vice unit’s long-term drug investigative efforts as part of a larger plan to fight the city’s drug problem.

The vice unit has five or six permanent officers, but they are often assisted by other APD officers and federal agents working with the FBI or Drug Enforcement Administration. Moreover, the vice unit used to be one of three units tasked with tackling drugs in Anchorage. The metro and special assignment units were dissolved, leaving just vice.

APD Capt. Bill Miller said while names for units changed or were eliminated, the department’s mission remains the same, and that bringing back a disbanded unit would likely not be effective.

“I don’t know what we could add by creating another unit that we’re not already addressing,” Miller said.

As division commander, Miller oversees all detective units at APD, including vice. He said one of the vice unit’s biggest challenges is the same as that of other units: a lack of manpower.

“If you talk to any detective or any officer, my guess is they’re going to say, ‘If we had more, we could do more,'” Miller explained.

APD is in the process of increasing the number of officers on staff. It’s a goal to which both Chief Chris Tolley and Mayor Ethan Berkowitz have committed. Miller said with more people on the force, the vice unit will become more successful.

“It will help in a couple ways. One is, it’ll help us get to all those calls that we’re getting. But it will give us some [extra] time to go kick over some stones and see what happens,” Miller noted. “Get out in the community. Go talk to business owners. Go talk to to homeowners that are seeing a house down the street that is getting a lot of traffic.”

With the right amount of resources, Miller believes the vice unit has the potential to be a key part of curbing Anchorage’s drug-use problem.

“We all wish we could do more, but I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Miller said.

KTVA 11’s Eric Ruble can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.