Anchorage Police are investigating attempts to “ambush” law enforcement officers in Alaska’s largest city.
But what exactly this means cannot be determined because police refuse to say what happened.
“I apologize for being vague here as I know it is not helpful in your information gathering, but unfortunately I’m unable to speak in detail as these are active investigations,” police spokesman Jennifer Castro emailed on Tuesday.
On July 7, five Dallas police officers providing security for a Black Lives Matter rally were killed in an ambush in the Texas city. Nine others were injured.
Ten days later, three police officers in Baton Rouge, La., were killed while responding to a 911 call. Three more were injured.
In both cases, the shooters died. The Dallas shooter was killed by a bomb-equipped robot after being cornered and starting an arm standoff with police. The Baton Rouge shooter was killed by a member of that city’s SWAT team who responded to the scene of the shootings.
The attacks rattled people across the country and left many law enforcement officers on edge. On July 27, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund released a report warning that “ambush killings of unsuspecting law enforcement officers is the leading circumstance of the firearms-related fatalities with 14 thus far in 2016 – spiking more than 300 percent over the three ambush killing in the same period last year.”
$250,000 for info on ambush
On Tuesday, solveacrime.com announced it was offering a $250,000 reward “for information that may prevent further ambush killings of law enforcement officers.” The press release making the announcement said “the recent ambush attacks on police officers across the country mark the deadliest period of terrorist attacks against law enforcement since 9-11.”
That the deadly national trend has reached from America’s South to the country’s northernmost state was first revealed Friday by municipal manager Mike Abbott who announced plans to “fully encrypt all public safety radio communications,” because “we now know that information gleaned from our dispatch system that was broadcast over the Internet was used to either avoid APD’s responses to crimes or attempt to ambush officers.”
KTVA News Director Bert Rudman and some other media protested the move to cloak police information, and the television station has pushed the issue of public information.
“The (encryption) decision has sparked community concerns about public safety and transparency,” KTVA.com reported Monday. “With scanners silent, those worries became a reality on Monday for people who live near Linda Lane when they learned police officers were searching for an armed man who broke into a home and shot home owner and shot the homeowner. APD didn’t release any information to the public or media about the safety threat until 11 hours later.”
But the threat of a random individual with a gun loose in an Anchorage neighborhood – all of which are overflowing with gun owners – pales next to the threat of local terrorists trying to lure police officers into ambushes.
“…We have had a few cases this year where officers have been shot at (information on those events were initially released through Nixle – all of our releases are archived online),” Castro emailed.
Veil of secrecy
Unfortunately, most information on these cases is being kept secret. Asked specifically if the shots meant there was one attempted ambush or several, Castro answered this way:
“We have multiple investigations ongoing in which multiple crimes occurred – one to possibly include a situation where officers were fired upon by the suspects who were known to use the scanner traffic during the commission of their crimes.”
Whether scanner encryption makes policing safer or less safe – by further segregating law enforcement officers from the communities they serve – has been little studied, but many communities across the country are debating encryption, according to USA Today.
Informed analysts say there are tradeoffs between safety, transparency and community relations with police.
“‘People who are generally supportive of the police want to listen to what’s going on, and it gives them a sense of what officers are involved in,'” Jim Bueermann, a former police chief and head of the Police Foundation, told NPR.com.
“A future terrorist attack in the U.S. might exploit the open radio communications of the police, but he says that possibility has to be weighed against what he sees as the importance of maintaining transparency in how police do their jobs.”
Alaska has been ranked as best in government transparency in at least one national report, but both the Fairbanks News-Miner and the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com have warned that state and local governments in the state are increasingly becoming less transparent.