Kenneth McCoy will go down in Alaska state history as the first Black chief of police of the Anchorage Police Department. He was also the first chief of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Providence Alaska, the state’s largest private employer. But he said his proudest accomplishments are the millions of tiny interactions he’s had with community members across his nearly 30-year career in law enforcement.

“I could be stopped at a traffic light and someone in a car next to me would recognize me and roll down their window, and we would have just a small conversation,” Kenneth said. “Those were so impactful.”

For Kenneth, his life and career have been dedicated to figuring out how to bring people together in the most difficult situations. He was promoted to police chief in 2021, tasked with leading an institution older than the state of Alaska itself. It happened amid racial justice protests that had spread across the country, and at a time when the broken relationship between law enforcement and the Black community in particular was under intense scrutiny day after day. He was able to meet the moment by leaning on all those little interactions with community members he had over the years, relationships he’d been building since his childhood.

Kenneth arrived in Alaska at the age of 15 by way of his father’s military assignment. He always wanted to work in law enforcement, to “help protect and make our community safe.” Following his father’s footsteps, he joined the military and spent 10 years in the Alaska Army National Guard. Then, he transitioned to police work in Anchorage, the city he grew up in. He found his experiences growing up making friends with kids from all over the world, and learning to get along with different types of people helped him in his career.

“The people I met and went to school with all seemed to be from someplace else,” McCoy said. “We all came together as one here in Alaska.”

But that didn’t mean his path was easy. Kenneth recalled advice he got from his grandmother as he was growing up: because of his race, if he wanted to reach his goals, he would need to work twice as hard as everyone else.

“I recognized that I’m just going to have to be better, and I’m going to have to continue to work at it and keep pushing through and not give up,” Ken said. “No matter where I was at in the food chain, I always held myself to that higher standard of professionalism.”

When the time came for him to lead, he was ready. That tenacity combined with his ambition and his dedication to togetherness motivated Kenneth to work toward healing the relationship between Anchorage’s communities of color and law enforcement. It was the centerpiece of his leadership strategy and people noticed.

“As I approached the opportunity to become chief of police here, the outpouring of support and the community truly rallying behind me was something I’ll never forget and that I’ll always be grateful for,” Kenneth said.

Kenneth retired from police work shortly after becoming chief, taking the job at Providence Alaska in 2022. But he couldn’t stay away from law enforcement too long. Kenneth is now the chief of police of the Tempe Police Department in Tempe, Arizona.

“At the end of the day, law enforcement is in my heart,” Ken said. “Returning to law enforcement in the capacity of chief of police allows me the opportunity again to build a better internal culture at the department and bring the police and community together.”

Whether it’s through law enforcement, or health care, Kenneth’s guiding value has always been to protect and serve his community. He plans to take what he’s learned from the community that raised him to help transform another one.

“My heart is just filled with gratitude for Alaska,” Ken said. “I couldn’t imagine another place to raise my family or have a career.”