Disbanding drug unit claims inequality

Posted: Sunday, September 06, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Several members of the Metro Drug Unit have filed a complaint against the Anchorage Police Department alleging the unit is disbanding partly because of racial discrimination.

A city spokeswoman said an investigation was opened after the officers met with the director of the Anchorage Office of Equal Opportunity on Thursday to discuss their concerns.

A spokeswoman for acting police Chief Steve Smith, who has been in charge only a few weeks, said Smith had not yet heard about the complaints.

But the Rev. William Greene, chairman of the Anchorage Community Police Relations Task Force and former president of the local NAACP, said most of the officers in the unit have talked to him about their concerns.

"That's one of the most diverse units in APD, and they have done everything that they possibly could to discredit that unit," Greene said. "These officers are not being treated equally. They are being treated like second-class citizens. ... I think disbanding is a form of intimidation."

Greene said police officials, whom he declined to name, have repeatedly threatened to shut the unit down because of underperformance, though many of the officers have been officially recognized for their work.

Police spokeswoman Anita Shell told the Anchorage Daily News that Smith "says if there's a grievance out there, we're going to let it take its course and review it."

Smith has said that disbanding the unit by the end of the month will avoid duplicating efforts by federal agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The DEA targets high-level drug operations and investigations can take months, sometimes years, to complete.

None of the roughly eight people in the unit is being laid off, just redeployed, police Lt. Dave Parker said.

Three of them will continue working with the DEA. The others will be put into other units, including vice, which investigates street-level drug, gambling and prostitution crimes.

"They've been considering it for quite a while," Parker said. "It seems that to have two organizations mainly going after the high-level dope in town is not as effective for dealing with drugs in the neighborhoods as is having a group that very actively pursues crack houses and things like that."

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