Anchorage police say there are hundreds of junk vehicles abandoned all over town, straining the department's resources – and requiring voters to weigh in on a potential fix. 

An ordinance on the agenda for introduction at Tuesday night's Anchorage Assembly meeting seeks to put a change to the city charter before voters in April's municipal election. 

Following frustrations over parking enforcement downtown, a voter-initiated amendment added to the charter's Vehicle Code Enforcement Standards in 1997 restricted the enforcement of vehicle violations to sworn officers only.

"Vehicle violations" includes the hundreds of junk cars that are abandoned in Anchorage every year. According to the ordinance, APD tagged and arranged for 680 abandoned or junk vehicles to be removed in 2017. Last year, that number went up to 760. 

According to an ordinance submitted to the Anchorage Assembly, APD tagged and arranged for the removal of 680 junk and abandoned cars in 2017, and 760 in 2018.

Anchorage Towing recently acquired the contract to address the left-behind vehicles. Its owner said Tuesday he's moved more than 100 cars, motorcycles, and motorhomes in less than a month, and has leased a new two-acre lot to store them. 

The measure seeks to allow municipal code enforcement officers to assist with calls for junked and abandoned cars, which would free up APD officers to respond to more pressing crimes. 

The measure has support from Mayor Ethan Berkowitz's office, APD and the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association.  

"It's usually not a quick process. The officer going to the scene, sitting on the vehicle, that officer is out of service for 45 minutes, an hour, or whatever it may be while the tow company comes," said APD Sgt. Jeremy Conkling. "The officer does the necessary paperwork and documentation and then that vehicle is removed."

Conkling is also the president of APDEA. He sent a letter to Berkowitz and the Assembly, urging them to back the proposed ballot proposition. 

"There's certainly some higher law enforcement priorities that those officers could be doing during that time, where I think this change will enable us to better deploy our resources and ultimately serve the citizens of Anchorage better by increasing public safety," he said. 

A memo from the mayor's office says the towing costs for each year added up to more than $100,000 annually. 

According to a memo from the Mayor's Office, the costs of removing junk and abandoned vehicles totaled more than $100,000 in both 2017 and 2018.

"In addition to supplementing the Police Department's enforcement capabilities, the involvement of code enforcement in the enforcement of junk and abandoned vehicles is also likely to result in increased recovery of fines and incurred towing costs," the memo reads. 

Getting the issue on the ballot requires a two-thirds majority vote by the Assembly. Initial public testimony on the measure was set during Tuesday's meeting for Feb. 12.

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