Police officers for Alaska’s largest city have thrown their support to Democratic challenger Mark Begich in this year’s race for governor.

The Anchorage Police Department Employees Association announced Wednesday that it is backing Begich, in what is now a three-way race with incumbent Gov. Bill Walker and Republican nominee Mike Dunleavy.

On Wednesday, APDEA cited one of Begich’s talking points from his record as Anchorage mayor, noting that he added 80 police officers to the city’s ranks and placed a pair of local prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office for Alaska. Current mayor Ethan Berkowitz has taken similar steps to face a wave of local crime.

The union also cited elements of Begich’s plan to address crime, which focuses on fully staffing the state Departments of Public Safety, Law and Corrections, addressing the state’s opioid epidemic, and coordinating local and state public-safety efforts.

“As representatives of the largest law enforcement agency in the state, we have chosen to endorse Mark Begich for governor because we have seen him tackle the hard issues and make a meaningful impact,” APDEA Vice President Sgt. Jeremy Conkling said in a statement.

APDEA has only made one previous endorsement for governor, Conkling said, backing Walker in his successful 2014 run against then-governor Sean Parnell.

He said the timing of Wednesday's announcement was coincidental after Begich's Tuesday press conference announcing he would stay in the race.

“We did not know anything about his announcement yesterday. We saw the press conference, you know, that it was coming out. But we didn’t know anything about the substance of it,” Conkling said.

While the state’s largest labor organization, AFL-CIO, says it favors the incumbent in its endorsement process, Conkling says APDEA has a different approach – one in which incumbency isn’t a factor.

“We weigh public safety, do you have a plan to make Alaska safer,” Conkling said.

“We interviewed the governor and we interviewed Mark, and we reached out to Sen. Dunleavy's campaign, got no response," Conkling said. "So we only got two interviews done. But Mark was the only one who has a plan, a comprehensive plan to address crime in Alaska.”

Begich credits his history as mayor of Anchorage for the endorsement.

"They saw that in action, they saw the positive impacts in fighting crime," Begich said in an interview Wednesday morning.

That experience, according to Begich, means municipalities across Alaska will see him as an ally in state office.

"They know my understanding as a mayor and former Assembly member and now hopefully as governor,” Begich said. “They see, I believe, a great combination, because of my understanding of how to deliver services and the pressures that they're under."

KTVA has reached out to the Walker and Dunleavy campaigns for response to the APDEA endorsement.

Walker has received a number of major union endorsements including those of the Alaska AFL-CIO, the National Education Association’s Alaska chapter and the Alaska State Employees Association.

The AFL-CIO’s president, Vince Beltrami, has worried about Begich and Walker splitting the state’s liberal vote and handing the race to the GOP, calling on the two men in July to join forces or agree that one of them drop out.

Scott Jensen and Liz Raines contributed information to this story.

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