Sitka’s police department has a new second-in-command. Lieutenant Jeff Ankerfelt started work on June 2. He is stepping into the position vacated by former Lieutenant Barry Allen, who retired last month after 25 years with the department.
Ankerfelt comes to Alaska from Minnesota, where he served in the Brooklyn Park Police Department for 23 years. But, he says, Sitka already feels like home.
ANKERFELT: My name is Jeff Ankerfelt, and I’m the brand new lieutenant here with the Sitka police department.
Jeff Ankerfelt is really excited to be in Sitka.
ANKERFELT: It felt like home the minute we got here.
Ankerfelt arrived in late May with his wife and son, after driving across the country from Minnesota. It’s a big move, but Ankerfelt says Sitka has called to him for a long time.
ANKERFELT: It was almost beyond serendipity that I would end up here in Sitka, Alaska. I read a book by Martin Strand, a Tlingit elder, many years ago, and I was really touched by the history of the people, their connection to this place. He was a great storyteller, he was an artist, his stories about being at fish camp, and having that sense of place. We don’t really have that in my family.
He was drawn to Sitka by Strand’s description. And then…
ANKERFELT:…and then I went to the FBI academy and I met [Sitka Police] Chief Schmitt there about ten years ago.
The two men clicked right away, and kept in touch over the years. When the lieutenant position in Sitka opened up, Ankerfelt knew he had to apply.
ANKERFELT: Professionally, it’s a new challenge. And then it allows myself and my family to become more complete people, to be a part of a community, and that’s really important to us. Being a part of something, and that’s what we want to be.
Ankerfelt comes to Sitka after 23 years with the police department in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, a city of about 80,000 just north of Minneapolis. Ankerfelt started out as a patrol officer and rose through the ranks, eventually becoming Deputy Chief. In that position, he supervised almost 150 people.
So how is policing different, when you move from city in the Midwest to a remote island community a tenth its size?
ANKERFELT: [laughs] Probably everything. But on a fundamental level? It’s the same. And what I’m really excited about serving here in Sitka is, relationships.
“Relationships” is a word that Ankerfelt uses a lot.
ANKERFELT: When I was a police officer, working the street and when I was more directly connected to the community, that filled my cup, so to speak. I felt charged at the end of the day, rejuvenated. And then as I progressed through the ranks and became further removed…I didn’t get a chance to be out in the community, and touch it, and be a part of it, and I really, really miss that. So the idea of coming to a smaller community, and a smaller organization, where relationships mattered, where your work counted, and having that direct personal contact with people, especially after 23 years has really made me feel energized.
Ankerfelt says that collaboration is at the heart of his policing style, whether it’s working with the SAFV shelter on issues of domestic violence, or reaching out to the Salvation Army and their food pantry. He says that over the course of his career, he has learned that partnerships are essential.
ANKERFELT: When I was a new officer, I didn’t have too many tools in my toolbox, right? It was strictly straightforward enforcement…So, over time, my philosophy has evolved to this: I think that so much of the pain and suffering and the victimization that we experience out there can be prevented, with just giving it a great deal of thought, being creative about solutions, personally investing ourselves…I really believe, that if you’re creative and you care and you’re empathetic, if you just care, and you just try and you work with people, someone doesn’t get hurt. I’m an absolute believer in that.
Speaking with KCAW on his second day on the job, Ankerfelt was still learning his phone number, and figuring out where to put things in his office. But one thing, he says, is already clear: coming to Sitka was the right choice.
ANKERFELT: You know, where I come from, if I’m driving down the street, people don’t wave at you [Laughs]. And I’ve had that experience already here…It’s a perfect way to cap out what has already been a wonderful career, a blessed career, so to be here for the next ten years if you will, if they’ll have me, feels really good.