Incoming Alaska police chief wants to focus less on arrests, more on community relations By:

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By Tess WilliamsAnchorage Daily News, Alaska

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Anchorage Mayor-elect Suzanne LaFrance on Tuesday said Deputy Chief Sean Case will lead the city’s police department beginning next week.

LaFrance’s new police chief appointment comes about 2 1/2 months after Mayor Dave Bronson named Bianca Cross as chief. She was the first woman to hold the position in the city’s history.

LaFrance, in a statement, said Case brings extensive leadership and a “deep understanding of policing policies.” Case said he grew up in Alaska and worked for the Los Angeles Police Department for two years before returning to Anchorage to work at the police department. He’s been with APD for nearly 24 years.

During his time at the Anchorage Police Department , Case spearheaded criminal and mental health diversion programs and launched the Mobile Intervention Team, which pairs social workers with police officers to respond to mental health crises.

In an interview Tuesday, Case said he believes homelessness, violent crime and adapting to body cameras are some of the biggest challenges currently facing the department. He described an approach to policing that focuses less on arrests and more on connecting residents undergoing mental health or substance abuse problems to resources.

“I believe that policing is really about taking that opportunity to connect with the community,” he said.

The department has grappled with low staffing levels during recent years, and Case said he hopes to improve that by promoting the department differently to recruit new officers who want to focus on community interaction, rather than the old-school vision of policing. He said he aims to create a positive culture within the department that takes into account officers’ mental health and trauma from the job.

As of Tuesday, there were 82 vacancies, including 53 sworn officer positions, of the 630 positions authorized within the department, spokeswoman Renee Oistad said.

LaFrance said the department will prioritize fixing staffing issues, addressing violent crime and improving community trust.

“That work includes a responsibility to establish much deeper partnerships with the BIPOC community, to listen, and to take actions that demonstrate a commitment to safety, healing, and justice,” she said in the statement.

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The department has come under fire over the past month after a string of police shootings that left at least two people dead and one wounded. Cross has repeatedly said she will not release body-camera footage of the shootings, despite policy allowing her to, until after an Office of Special Prosecutions investigation is completed.

[SWAT officers involved in fatal East Anchorage standoff didn’t wear body cameras]

Case said he plans to change how the department handles body-camera footage. He said that he has already drafted a new version of the policy that will outline a timeframe for the release of footage, and that the changes are being reviewed by incoming leaders of the municipal law department.

“I would like a timeline because I think that’s the thing that sets the expectation,” he said. “If we have a certain amount of time that we put in and this is when we want to release the bodycam footage, that kind of holds everyone off for that time period instead of immediately, from minute one, kind of raising that anxiety about what really happened.”

LaFrance said she met with Cross several times during the mayoral transition and was grateful for Cross’ “dedicated service to our community.”

An Assembly confirmation hearing for Cross was canceled earlier this month because officials wanted to wait until after LaFrance took office.

Mayor Bronson, who lost to LaFrance in May’s mayoral runoff election, said during Tuesday evening’s Assembly meeting that he “was deeply saddened” to learn Cross would be replaced, describing her appointment to the role of police chief as one of his “proudest moments.”

“I firmly believe that Bianca is the most qualified person for the job. She is professional, educated and has the unwavering support of the rank-and-file,” Bronson said.

Case said he plans to have two deputy chiefs but wasn’t ready Tuesday to announce who would fill those positions. What role Cross would fill within the department once he takes over is still being determined, Case said.

Cross declined to be interviewed on Tuesday.

Case will take over as police chief on July 1 as LaFrance takes office. He said he is honored to be stepping into the role.

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