Cordovans call for tougher drug policing

Survey: Residents praise CPD but raise concerns of understaffing at 3-person department

A Cordova Police Department vehicle. (Aug. 10, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

An Aug. 7-31 survey by the city of Cordova found that about half of the community is satisfied with the performance of Cordova police, with many voicing concerns about department understaffing and non-enforcement of drug laws.

Of the 203 people participating in the survey, 50 percent described themselves as satisfied with the performance of the Cordova Police Department, 21 percent dissatisfied and 28 percent neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. Some survey respondents praised Cordova police officers for de-escalating confrontational situations and engaging with the community despite a lack of manpower and funding.

“I appreciate the dedication of our officers,” wrote one respondent. “I see them on patrol and wonder, how do they do it? It seems to me that our PD are short-handed, and I would like to see two officers on duty at a time.”

However, other respondents said that Cordova’s police force was too small to do its job effectively. The department currently employs three officers, including Police Chief Nate Taylor, and is in the process of hiring two more officers, the maximum number of additional officers accommodated by the department’s budget.

The most common issue raised by respondents was that of illicit drugs in Cordova. The presence of drug dealers in Cordova is an open secret that has hurt the town’s status as a family community, some respondents said.

Marijuana use is common among Cordova Jr./Sr. High School students at group social events like parties and basketball games, current and recently graduated students said.

“I am frustrated that it seems easy for me to see who is selling drugs in town and how they are getting them here and nothing seems to be happening about it,” wrote a respondent. “I understand that you can only do things within the law, but I would like to see this issue be handled more proactively and aggressively.”

In a survey on community policing, Cordova residents complained that the row of impounded vehicles in front of the police and fire department offices was “an eyesore.” (Sept. 16, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Asked, “What is the one thing you would really like to know about our community police but have never asked?” respondents again raised the issue of why police have not done more to crack down on drug dealers. Respondents also criticized a lack of regular police patrols and questioned how a small group of officers could be expected to cover such a broad array of duties.

Survey responses also reflected numerous miscellaneous concerns. Some respondents complained that the row of impounded vehicles in front of the police and fire department offices turned the venue into a “junkyard,” while one respondent suggested using the vehicles as a public reminder of the perils of intoxicated driving. A plan to remove the vehicles is already underway, Taylor said. One factor complicating removal of the vehicles is that some of them may have criminal evidentiary value, and must be housed in a secure environment.

Other issues split respondents, such as the question of whether the department required a greater degree of public oversight. Contrary to calls to increase department staffing, some respondents said the department should be downsized.

Spanish and Tagalog versions of the survey garnered no responses. However, overall public engagement was strong, and responses were remarkably rich and detailed, said Shelly Wade, a consultant for Agnew::Beck, the firm that conducted the survey and analyzed the results. Respondents raised many issues that the department is already working to address, City Manager Helen Howarth said.

Data from the survey will be used to inform upcoming public discussions with Taylor and Mayor Clay Koplin. The department also plans to improve and broaden its communication with the public, Taylor said. For instance, the department may look into publishing the results of criminal cases, additional to the arrest notices that are already published. This could help the community gain a better understanding of the legal process that occurs after arrest, Taylor said.

“Cordova’s police issue is not the same issues that are getting so much attention in the Lower 48,” wrote a respondent. “Our officers take on a big job with very little appreciation. They continue to serve the community despite understaffing and budget restrictions.”