Alaska's largest city is protected by 433 sworn police officers, but due to a recent decline in applicants, the Anchorage Police Department is going to new lengths to maintain the force. 

Thursday, a police academy in its seventh week with 14 APD hopefuls practiced traffic stops in South Anchorage — a fundamental of policing that incorporates several of the skills recruits have been working on. 

"Traffic stops are kind of a wild card," said Sgt. Scott Roberts. "You never know what you're going to get into." 

Ideally, APD's two annual police academies would have 28 recruits in order to keep staffing levels up as tenured officers reach retirement. The department is currently trying to fill those slots for its June academy, the first of 2019. 

"When I applied — it was quite a few years ago, more than 20 years ago — it wasn't uncommon to have 1,200 to 1,500 applicants for a single academy," APD Sgt. Mike Jensen said.

He said now that number is more in the neighborhood of 500 to 600, and most recently down to roughly 350, which makes it more difficult to fill academies. 

"It's a continual process because of attrition. Some folks are hitting that landmark where they've been here 20 to 25 years and it's time to move on at the next stage of their life," Jensen explained. "So to keep up with that, we can't quit hiring. We gotta keep after it and keep looking for those the right people." 

APD is using coffee sleeves to advertise its recruitment efforts. (Photo Courtesy: John Thain // KTVA)

It's hard to pinpoint a single reason for the decline. Jensen believes there are several factors at play. 

It's possible the pool of eligible people is becoming depleted. Completing the academy is a rigorous process and even qualifying requires applicants to meet high standards. APD is looking for "the creme of the crop," Jensen said.  

The following are the minimum requirements listed on the Anchorage Municipality website

•   Applicant must be a citizen of the United States by date of hire
•   High school diploma, GED, or equivalent
•   Associates Degree or higher preferred
•   Must be 21 years of age by the date of hire
•   Must possess a valid State of Alaska Driver’s license by the time of hire
•   Must meet standards established by the Alaska Police Standards Council (APSC) 
•   No criminal convictions after reaching the age of 18 
•   No marijuana use within the past three years
•   The legalization of marijuana in Alaska could also be a factor. 

"That does play a role," said Jensen, "[...] there's a number of states now where marijuana is legal, and for us, it's three years. You can't have used marijuana within three years."

He said that policy is specific to APD. The Alaska Police Standards Council, which sets the standards for certification of police officers in Alaska, has a one-year policy.

In addition to making up for natural attrition, APD also has to fill the positions of officers who leave Alaska for the Lower 48. 

"That does happen, and it happens a little more frequently than it did in the past," Jensen said.

He attributes the trend to a difference in mindset between his generation and younger generations.

"When I got hired I was looking for a career, you know, a 20-year career, and I've met that goal," said Jensen. "[...] but I think now you're seeing some other generations are looking at maybe four or five years." 

Jensen said the recruits who go on to become sworn officers generally exhibit a high drive for success and a desire to help their community. 

In order to keep the force strong, Jensen said APD is trying new things when it comes to recruitment, including advertising on coffee cup sleeves and going to events that are not typical recruiting locations. Most recently, they set up a booth at a wedding fair. 

"We're trying to get as many applicants as possible, because we really do have a good opportunity here," he said. 

APD plans to hold academies in June and December. Information and the application can be found on the department's recruiting website

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