(Video / Marc Lester, Anchorage Daily News)
From the driver’s seat of his Anchorage police cruiser, Officer Barry Hetlet sees many people out wandering the streets of Fairview and downtown Anchorage in the middle of the night. At all hours, people stand on the street corners of Ingra and linger downtown. During rare quiet moments, between the mayhem of 911 calls, he wonders how the people he sees landed in that place in life.
“I’ve always been a real people-watcher, if you will,” Hetlet explained during a Saturday-to-Sunday shift in May. “For instance, there’s a guy standing right there on the corner and it’s 4:20 in the morning. It just makes me wonder, what’s his deal, you know? What kind of decisions did he make in life that kind of led him down this path? What kind of upbringing? What kind of unfortunate set of events that happened in his life to get him to where he is now?”
From Hetlet’s perspective, not a lot of good things happen at those hours on the streets of the district police call Area 11. On one all-night ride-along in fall 2013 and another this spring, Hetlet and his colleagues rushed nonstop from problem to problem. Routine calls included checking on the welfare of people face-down drunk in the streets, intervening in domestic violence, stopping drivers they suspected were intoxicated and trying to keep a cork on trouble when bars closed and patrons spilled out into the street.
Despite the unpredictable and varied nature of police work, Hetlet has noticed one constant on his night and weekend shifts over more than six years: Nearly all of his calls are alcohol-related, he says. If there were no alcohol, people might find some other vice to indulge in. Then again, maybe Anchorage would need fewer police, he says.
As it is now, on a typical weekend evening, a dozen or more calls often must wait as police handle the most dangerous situations first. The aftermath of a bar fight might have to wait until a report of gun violence is handled. A domestic-violence response comes before a report of strangers sleeping in a residential yard.
In this Alcohol & Me video, Hetlet describes what the city looks like while most of Anchorage is sleeping. Photographs show him and his midshift patrol colleagues at work.
“There’s a lot of people, they live in a bubble. They don’t really see all the stuff that goes on, and they don’t see what people do to each other,” he said. “It’s my job to help maintain that bubble. I’ll go out and deal with it so they don’t have to.”
Originally published June 7, 2014 by Marc Lester in Anchorage Daily News.