Alaska City Leaders: Abrupt Retirement of 1st Black Police Chief a Loss

Dec. 7, 2021
Anchorage Police Chief Ken McCoy, whose last day will be Feb. 1, has not said why he is leaving the department after 27 years and only months after he was named chief.

Anchorage Police Chief Ken McCoy's decision to retire just months after stepping into the role is a loss for the entire city, leaders in communities of color said after his sudden announcement last week. As Anchorage's first Black police chief, McCoy's appointment was a moment to celebrate, they said — and his decision to retire left them surprised and saddened.

McCoy did not say why he is leaving the department after 27 years and declined multiple interview requests. Mayor Dave Bronson announced in June that he would appoint McCoy, although McCoy had been serving in the role on a temporary basis since former Police Chief Justin Doll retired in April.

The mayor did not address McCoy's retirement until the morning after the announcement. In a statement posted on Facebook, Bronson said he is "appreciative of the work and service" McCoy has provided to Anchorage.

McCoy's retirement was a shock to many, said Rev. Undra Parker of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church. Parker helped rally support for him alongside the Alaska Black Caucus. McCoy announced his retirement late Tuesday evening through Nixle, the police department's opt-in notification system. Before that, it was not addressed internally in the department, said Jeremy Conkling, president of the police union.

McCoy is well-respected and widely liked because he worked to connect with all of Anchorage's communities, Parker said.

While campaigning, Bronson said he would not automatically appoint McCoy to the position, but would consider all options. Scores of community members, especially people of color, threw their support behind McCoy, Parker said.

"We've seen so many times where African Americans have been overlooked. And even when they're qualified, we've been overlooked," he said. "And so for us to have this opportunity to stand with someone we truly believe, not just because he was African American, but because he was qualified ... We wanted to make sure that didn't happen."

The community celebrated McCoy's appointment with fanfare, seeing it as a turning point for the Anchorage Police Department.

When the Anchorage Assembly confirmed McCoy, there were musical performances, speeches and accolades. The Alaska Black Caucus, along with Parker and others from local churches, held a celebration and prayer event in August.

Celeste Hodge Growden, Alaska Black Caucus president, said McCoy's decision to leave has caused "disappointment, frustration, a sense of sadness, a loss of hope."

"I was really excited that Ken actually became our new police chief because I feel that he could help bridge the diverse community with the Anchorage Police Department," she said.

McCoy's appointment came after more than a year of national upheaval and outrage about racism and police brutality following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The summer before McCoy's appointment, there were peaceful demonstrations and calls for police reform in Anchorage.

"When Chief McCoy broke that barrier, I think a lot of folks were excited to see what Chief McCoy would do in his position and particularly how he would work with a lot of communities which historically don't have great relationships with the police," Assembly member Felix Rivera said.

"For a chief of police to be a person that is so entrenched in the community in which you're going to serve, that's a big statement for us," Parker said.

After McCoy's appointment, many hoped he would help improve the department's relationship with communities of color and institute practices and reforms that have been successful in the Lower 48, Rivera said.

When he was appointed to the role, McCoy said he wanted to improve community trust in the department.

"I think a lot of people sort of put their hopes on Chief McCoy being able to help propel that," Rivera said.

During his time as chief, McCoy has led community discussions and crafted policy on the body-worn cameras that voters approved in April.

Rev. Leon D. May of River in the Desert Community Church in Anchorage, also president of the local Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, said that he worked with other groups in communities of color and arranged a meeting with the incoming mayor to advocate for McCoy's appointment.

May said that Anchorage's Black and African-American community had battled just to have Black people become a part of the police department over its 100-year history.

McCoy was "one who has risen through the ranks, well-qualified, well-connected, man of integrity, who just happens to be Black and African American," May said.

McCoy's deep connections with all sorts of communities across Anchorage, including among different groups of people of color and others, made him more qualified and led to widespread support for his appointment, May said.

McCoy's sudden announcement concerned communities that supported him, May said. There are also unanswered questions about why he is leaving.

"Any reasonable person would think or understand that there would have to be some underlying factors that would bring someone to that kind of conclusion," May said. Many wonder whether top-down pressure and issues with the administration were behind McCoy's decision, May said.

People are "just dissatisfied that it came to this," May said.

Multiple high-ranking officials and administrators have left the city since Bronson took office in July, and though many are disappointed by McCoy's departure, some are not surprised "just considering the level of instability in the administration right now," Rivera said.

"It creates this aura — whether right or wrong —that there's a huge amount of instability, when people are leaving on such a frequent basis. Every week, we're hearing about someone new getting fired or leaving the administration," Rivera said. "... One has to wonder... what is that going to mean for the police department?"

In his statement, McCoy said his decision came "after much reflection and thoughtful consideration," but did not include any details explaining why he is leaving.

Bronson in a statement said he was happy for McCoy's "new opportunity," but McCoy has not said if he accepted a different job offer.

McCoy will not use accrued leave and will stay on as chief until Feb. 1, said Corey Allen Young, a spokesman for the mayor's office.

"Chief McCoy is going to help in terms of the transition and make sure that the Anchorage Police Department staff has the leadership it needs to move forward in the future. He's an APD guy all the way — he's not going to leave us stranded," Young said. "So I'm not aware of him taking any leave. The date that he said is something that was obviously talked about beforehand."

The mayor's office declined to comment further on why McCoy is leaving.

There's not yet a timeline for appointing a new chief, according to Young. Bronson does not have a particular person in mind for the job, Young said.

"All things are on the table," Young said.

Some Anchorage leaders voiced fears that McCoy's retirement could mean a step backward for Anchorage.

"I can tell you right now that members of the BIPOC community are very worried about where the police department's going to go," Rivera said.

Parker said that he respects McCoy's decision and he's hopeful that the next police chief will hold similar values.

"We will continue to move forward and hope that our city would select the next best person to lead it and lead it in the right manner," Parker said.


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