A divided Ketchikan City Council narrowly rejected a measure Thursday that would have asked state lawmakers to create anti-discrimination protections for law enforcement professionals. Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly recently passed a similar measure at the urging of its borough mayor.
Council Member Dick Coose says police are having a tough time right now. That’s why he spoke in favor of recommending state lawmakers pass legislation protecting them from discrimination.
“I don’t know whether they support this or not, but if it helps them in being able to do their job with a little more confidence, and a little more — gain any respect, I don’t know, but I’m going to support this, and I think we need to be careful though about legislating discrimination — respect,” Coose said.
But opponents said it was a reaction to a previous anti-discrimination push that some didn’t argee with.
“This body does not exist in a vacuum, and this resolution cannot be divorced from the same resolution first drafted at the Borough Assembly as a backlash to a minority group challenging those in power and demanding that they deserve equal rights and protection under the law,” Ketchikan resident Ryan McHale told the council during public comment.
He’s referring the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly’s recent measure calling for state protections for LGBTQ people.
Opponents of that measure — which included the borough mayor — pushed for a resolution that would outlaw discrimination against law enforcement. That assembly resolution passed with Borough Mayor Rodney Dial, a former Alaska State Trooper, breaking a 3-3 tie.
But a majority on the City Council argued that a person’s chosen profession is not the same as sexual orientation.
Council Member Judy Zenge came out against the measure.
“This doesn’t address race, gender, age or sexual orientation,” she said.
Zenge said the council had long supported the city’s police department. She said she’d reached out to get local police officers’ take.
“They don’t agree with this. They don’t want this. They just want to be left alone to do their jobs,” she said.
Nobody from the police department spoke up either way.
Council Member Emily Chapel argued that an anti-discrimination law isn’t necessary.
“In Alaska, our police officers actually have more protection than civilians in that there are mandatory enhanced sentences for crimes committed against law enforcement,” she said.
She argued that if the council wanted to protect against discrimination based on someone’s occupation, it should protect every profession, not just police officers.
She joined Judy Zenge, Janalee Gage and Sam Bergeron in opposing the measure.
Council Member Mark Flora said he disagreed with the idea that police officers could divorce themselves from their identity as law enforcement by simply taking off their uniforms. He voted in favor.
Council Member Dave Kiffer also voted for the measure.
All three votes in favor came from council members up for re-election.
Though the resolution failed 3-4, both the city and borough mayors signed a proclamation Monday commending law enforcement officers.