At the beginning of April, the Department of Public Safety conducted a weeklong training for Alaska State Troopers centered around combating sexual assault and domestic violence in rural areas. According to an April 9 press release from DPS, 10 State and Wildlife Troopers from the communities of Anchor Point, Bethel, Cordova, Kotzebue, Nome, Prince of Wales, St. Mary’s and Togiak attended the training.
The first day of training consisted of tactical response exercises at the Palmer PD gun range, with the rest of the week’s training taking place at the DPS crime lab in Anchorage. Troopers were taught strategies for interviewing survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, how to effectively interrogate potential suspects, how to look for signs of violence on a potential survivor and the most up-to-date techniques for crime scene and death investigations.
The topics covered in the training are also taught at the Department of Public Safety Training Academy in Sitka, which DPS Communications Director Megan Peters said all new troopers are required to attend as part of their recruitment. The purpose of this training is to teach troopers based in rural areas how to effectively respond to crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“When a trooper works out in rural Alaska, they are frequently responsible for these investigations without back-up or the immediate ability to talk something through with a coworker or supervisor,” Lt. Rick Roberts said in the press release. “Instead of thinking about what immediate steps have to be taken, they are learning to think in terms of ‘what am I going to need in the next 12 hours?’ With very few resources.”
Another focus of the weeklong training was trooper resiliency and mental health. “We want our troopers to know when and how to take care of themselves,” Roberts said in the press release. “It’s okay to seek out help and accept help. Let’s face it, what our troopers deal with on a daily basis is stressful and often heartbreaking.”
Trooper Marco Fischer of Anchor Point was one of the 10 troopers who attended the training, and he spoke on Monday about his takeaway. “A lot of it was a refresher, but I did learn a lot and was able to take some resources back to my team that will help us with these kinds of cases.”
Fischer said that he was given several new investigation tools as part of the training, including a testing kit for sexual assault survivors and a new type of black light used to detect things not readily visible under normal light.
Fischer noted that investigating cases of sexual assault and domestic violence is particularly difficult in rural communities because there is often no dedicated department or personnel for these cases. Fischer said that he and other rural troopers have to handle every aspect of the investigation on their own and added that he is currently handling four such cases in addition to his other responsibilities. Fischer has been a trooper for six years and has been stationed at Anchor Point for the last two years, and he said that even troopers with more than 20 years of experience were able to learn a lot from the weeklong training. Fischer said that more troopers should take advantage of the training.
Peters said that similar events are planned for the future.