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Mayor, Chief Pitch ‘Community Policing’ to Crowd at Meeting in South Fairbanks

Tim Ellis/KUAC

Fairbanks’s mayor and police chief rolled out a new approach to law enforcement last night. The community policing program is getting started in crime-plagued South Fairbanks.

Mayor John Eberhart told about 100 people who packed the meeting room at the J.P. Jones Community Center that the new policing policy represents a departure from the way law enforcement officers have traditionally operated.

“It’s a different philosophy,” Eberhart said. “It’s a different way of forming closer relationships with your community.”

Chief Randall Aragon says that old approach involves a routine response after a crime has been committed: “Call the police. Send a car. Make an arrest.”

Aragon says the old approach is reactive, and largely ineffective, because police get reports of crimes after the fact, the suspect is long gone in about 75 percent of the cases. And he says there’s typically only about a 5 percent chance that police will be able to arrest a suspect. The chief says a different approach is needed, especially for troubled areas like Fairbanks’s south side.

“We’re writing an excellent police report,” Aragon said. “But that bicycle from that neighborhood, they continuously get stolen, no one’s working on how to solve the problem. Community policing is trying to prevent it from happening in the first place.”

Aragon says community policing is intended to help residents both protect themselves from becoming crime victims and help police prevent crimes in their neighborhoods. That requires the police to get out into the community, and build trust with its residents.

To get the dialogue going, Aragon polled residents on their major crime and law-enforcement issues. They came up with a list of 17. The top three were drug activity, speeding – and a lack of respect shown by police.

Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC
Area residents and others look for seats before Tuesday meeting began. More than 100 people attended.

A couple of residents raised concerns over what they thought might become an overly intrusive police policy. But most of those in attendance, like the Rev. Joe Blackburn, seemed comfortable with it.

“Well, I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Blackburn said. “I think it’s headed in the right direction. It shows concern....”

Blackburn, the pastor of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, says he’s hopeful that community policing will build the trust needed to encourage residents to interact with police and overcome concerns that some have about law enforcement.

“Just feeling comfortable, and not feeling that every time you see a policeman that he’s there to arrest you or serve you a warrant or something,” he said.

Officer Richard Sweet has been heading up the community policing program on much of the south side for about a month now. He says he hopes it’ll help residents understand that fighting crime is something most everyone can agree on.

“The hope is that it’s not an us-them proposition between the police and the community,” Sweet said. “Everybody’s together.”

Aragon says he’ll convene another meeting on April 30th at the J.P. Jones Center to check back on how community policing is working. He says the program will be phased in citywide in the coming months.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.