The city of Anchorage had a modest beginning as a tent city on the banks of Ship Creek and was originally called Ship Creek Landing. Law enforcement for the Alaska Territory had been in the hands of the United States Marshals. On November 23, 1920, Anchorage was incorporated as a first class city.
On December 22, 1920, the City Council appointed John J. Sturgus to begin as Chief of Police on January 1, 1921, at a salary of $200 a month. He was a one-man police department until his death just six weeks later. He was shot and killed with his own gun on February 20, 1921. Sturgus’ murderer was never apprehended. The city council voted to offer a $1,000 reward, the mayor pledged an additional $250, and all other council members and clerk pledged $100 each, bringing the total reward to $1,950. His death was to be APD’s first unsolved homicide. Many men served as chief during Anchorage’s violent territorial years. In 1926, the council began hiring night watchmen during the long winter months of October thru March. On June 19, 1935, the council received a petition signed by seven property owners to provide a 24-hour police force.
The Department got along on foot with the occasional use of a citizen’s borrowed car and the use of taxis until the city decided to purchase a vehicle. In August 1930 APD got its first police vehicle: a used Ford for $63.75. It wasn’t until April 1941 that the council voted to purchase the Department’s first new police car – a 1941 Dodge 4-door sedan, completely equipped with siren and spotlight, for $1,401.80.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the military began building bases and the population of Anchorage began to grow, jumping from 4,229 in 1939 to 30,060 in 1950.
In 1975 the City of Anchorage merged with the Greater Anchorage Area Borough (GAAB) to form the Municipality of Anchorage. Though APD contracted police services to the Borough, “Spenard officers” had to use separate ordinances and accounting systems in their duties. APD’s service area increased from 31 square miles to 110 square miles.
Today the Anchorage Police Department is the largest police department in Alaska, serving a population of roughly 301,000 in a service area encompassing 159 square miles. There are several specialized officer units including Canine, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), Negotiations Team, Bomb Team, School Resource Officers (SRO), Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), Traffic Unit, Crime Scene Team, and the Community Action Policing Team. APD also has several specialty detective units; APD’s Homicide Unit has been nationally recognized for their techniques and high solvability rate.