Citizen tracks prostitution, other crime in Spenard

Woman prowls streets, alleys as one of a dozen watchdogs in community patrol

Posted: Monday, January 12, 2004

ANCHORAGE - On days off from her regular job as an oil company flight reservations agent, Alicia Knight could go to a movie or take a nap like a normal sedentary 47-year-old office worker.

But no.

She likes to pick up a sausage-egg McMuffin at McDonald's and drive to a Spenard Road parking lot near Lois Drive to watch for something, anything, illegal. That area is popular with prostitutes, she said.

One morning, sitting in her white Ford pickup, she heard a report on the police scanner of an assault. Moments later, she said, "I saw a prostitute walking away crying."

She flagged a patrol car and pointed police to the victim.

That's the stuff of a satisfying life for Knight, who drives the streets and alleys of Spenard as one of a dozen active patrollers in the Westside Community Patrol.

The volunteer patrol combs the district on Friday and Saturday nights into the wee hours. Knight puts in some mornings too.

The patrollers seek out the kind of nuisance crime that plagues neighborhoods but doesn't always make the top-10 list for the real Police Department: prostitution, kids drinking and fighting, drug dealing out of apartments and houses. They track violators and turn them in when they can.

Airline agents, an engineering project manager, a retired attorney, an auto mechanic and a city health care worker are among the Westside crew.

When Knight's twin 24-year-old sons were younger, she was busy with Boy Scouts and wrestling matches. She remembers her transformation to citizen on patrol seven years ago. A neighbor had opened what Knight determined to be an after-hours gambling establishment across the street from her house in an old and established Turnagain neighborhood, next to Spenard.

She still lives in the house near Fish Creek that her parents owned and she grew up in. "It's a beautiful neighborhood," she said.

But it wasn't so nice when she'd go out in the morning to take her sons to school and find cars parked in her driveway from a club set up in a trailer across the street.

She hassled an Anchorage Assembly member to get it closed, and finally he suggested she take matters into her own hands and join the patrol.

Knight has since turned into a super citizen, sucked into an activist's role by camaraderie, adrenaline-filled moments, and a sense of doing good.

"When you've been successful - if you hook the cops up with a drunk driver and they take the driver away - that's great," she said.

Sometimes it's scary. About three years ago she witnessed a drive-by shooting east of Arctic Boulevard near Chugach Way. She thought, "My God, I'm in the middle of this!"

But still, she noted that the vehicle with the shooter had a handicapped plate and saw what direction it was going - enough info to help police.

Knight has an amazing memory for details like license plates, said dispatcher Diane Olson, who runs the patrol communications out of her Turnagain garage. "She's like a walking computer or something."

Anchorage police officer Tim Carpenter, who works the Spenard beat, says Knight can identify many street regulars. "She knows them by name and sight. She'll give us a call."

Knight says she's best at backup, observing scenes from a distance. "I just kind of mosey. If there's something I can lend my eyes to ... "

By contrast, patrol president Sam O'Connor is bigger, more imposing, more of an in-your-face type. He gets out of his truck to stand by and help police officers, and he's not afraid of confrontation.

But Knight, who is short, has a ready laugh and looks friendly, will challenge wrongdoers if it seems necessary.

A week ago, she was the first patroller out on a cold, dark Friday night and soon spotted a lone woman walking down Arctic Boulevard.

"I've got a possible fish," she said into her radio. That's what the Westside patrollers call prostitutes. She described the woman for Olson, the dispatcher.

"You can tell by body language," Knight said. "They'll saunter, throw their hips out in a certain way. They make eye contact with drivers."

A bit later, a maroon pickup driven by a man stopped for the woman. Knight pulled up next to them and told the man: "Pick up a prostitute and you lose your car" - a possible penalty under a new city law she figures johns might not know about.

"I'm not a prostitute," the woman said. "I called him. He's my friend."

OK, Knight said, but she hovered, shot a photograph and called in what she could see of the license plate.

Knight and Olson made bets on how many minutes would pass until Knight would spot the same woman back walking Spenard. It was an hour or two and a couple of tricks later, Knight surmises.

"Rule number one," she says. "Hookers lie. Rule number two: Go back to rule number one."

World-weary, maybe, but a voice more experienced than that of the woman who took to driving the streets seven years ago.

So what ever happened to the gambling club across the street from her house? On patrol, she came to know a lot of police officers.

"They got tired of hearing me harp about this place," Knight said. And one day, after she called in a complaint to the police about what she was observing, the owner of the place just disappeared. He hasn't been back, she said.

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