Jim Cockrell was appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy as Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (Courtesy photo / Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy)

Jim Cockrell was appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy as Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (Courtesy photo / Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy)

Opinion: Budget proposal makes meaningful investments in public safety

This administration is determined to make Alaska a place where people can feel safe, and victims can expect justice.

  • Friday, December 24, 2021 2:30am
  • Opinion

By Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Commissioner James Cockrell

It’s no secret that this administration inherited a crime problem, and since day one we have made public safety our top priority to help bring down the abhorrent rates of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Significant progress has been made to bring down our overall crime rate. In 2019, Alaska saw a 10.1 percent overall decrease in crime, followed by an 18.5 percent decrease in 2020 when reported property crimes were at their lowest level since 1974. While we’ve made strides in the right direction, our rates of sexual assault and domestic violence remain far too high.

Recent reporting suggests that the Dunleavy administration and the Alaska State Troopers are not keeping their promise to provide adequate public safety to rural Alaska, while in reality the exact opposite is true.

Incomplete reporting that suggests we favor some parts of the state over others, and that even suggests race is a factor in our decisions, is not only demoralizing to our brave men and women in uniform, but it is also erodes trust between the communities we serve by sending a message that this administration doesn’t care and help isn’t on the way.

The Alaska State Troopers are doing their part to address high crime rates in rural Alaska. We have far more troopers assigned to Western Alaska than anywhere else, or nearly twice as many troopers per capita than the three other regions we serve both on and off the road system.

In addition, we are in the process of deploying seven Alaska Bureau of Investigation investigators to Western Alaska. This is the first time that Western Alaska will have dedicated investigators to perform high-quality investigations into violent felony crimes plaguing Western Alaska.

We now have three investigators and a sergeant in place in Bethel, with more coming for Nome, Kotzebue, and Dillingham in the coming months. We also redeployed our professional civilian pilots to enable troopers to respond more quickly to active incidents across Western Alaska.

The Village Public Safety Officer program is vital to public safety in rural communities, and we are doubling down on our efforts to revitalize the program. Recently the Department of Public Safety authorized a $7 per hour raise for VPSOs over the next three years. This will help recruit and retain VPSOs throughout remote communities. In the FY 2023 budget proposal we also include funding for 10 additional VPSOs to serve in rural communities.

More must be done to reduce crime in Alaska, for there cannot be economic progress and growth if a community feels unsafe. While many cities, counties and states in the Lower 48 seek to defund their police, Alaska will be doing the opposite.

In the FY 2023 budget proposal, the Alaska Department of Public Safety would see a significant increase in funding to address crime across the state. The department will be able to hire 14 additional Alaska State Troopers and three Alaska Wildlife Troopers for both urban and rural Alaska. In 2022, we are on track to have our largest trooper classes in decades and are on target to add 60 troopers to our ranks.

After receiving world-class instruction at the academy, these troopers will deploy to the Mat-Su, Fairbanks, or Soldotna to complete their on-the-job training before they can be assigned to smaller communities across the state.

The budget proposal also makes meaningful investments in domestic violence, sexual assault and missing and murdered Indigenous persons, or MMIP, programs under the recently announced People First Initiative. The state will fill the multimillion-dollar hole left in the budget for the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault by the federal government. Our victims’ service providers that support countless survivors across the state deserve nothing less.

We will also hire three additional positions to support the department’s MMIP and tribal relations starting next summer under the FY23 budget proposal.

Reversing decadeslong problems does not happen overnight, but we are making progress. From clearing the backlog of sexual assault examination kits, collecting thousands of owed DNA samples and increasing our investments in public safety for four years in a row, this administration is determined to make Alaska a place where people can feel safe, and victims can expect justice.

The proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2023 is evidence of this commitment.

Mike Dunleavy is the 12th governor of Alaska. James Cockrell is the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety and a 30-year veteran of the Alaska State Troopers.

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