Opinion: Dunleavy’s village policing plan bad idea for rural Alaska

Opinion: Dunleavy’s village policing plan bad idea for rural Alaska

I have 40 years of experience with law enforcement in Alaska.

  • By Richard L. Burton
  • Monday, June 10, 2019 10:32pm
  • Opinion

I followed the recent visit to Alaska by U.S. Attorney General William Barr with great interest but was disappointed that the main thing that seemed to come out of his meetings in Alaska was for Barr to declare an “emergency” in rural Alaska law enforcement.

This puts Alaska’s rural villages on a similar footing as the border with Mexico. In the case of the southern border, President Donald Trump declared an emergency, to divert money to build a wall, even if Congress does not approve.

In Alaska, I recently learned of a plan by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, in effect, to declare an emergency and, with little or no notice to the Alaska Legislature, to pave the way for a federal takeover of rural law enforcement and to militarize village policing.

In both cases, the chief executive officer came up with a bad idea that is not going to work, rather than developing a meaningful plan for effectively dealing with the situation over the long term.

The governor’s plan is to patrol Alaska villages with the Alaska State Defense Force. The ASDF, also known as the state militia, is a quasi-military organization made up of volunteers with no police training, who must follow federal rules and regulations designed for the National Guard.

The governor has apparently now given orders to his staff to draft operational plans for the militia to begin police duty in remote villages that were mentioned during Barr’s visit.

Normally, police officers in Alaska are required to be certified by the Alaska Police Standards Council, as having proper training and qualifications. In this instance, the Commissioner of Public Safety will instead give members of the militia authority as special police officers. This is allowed under state law in AS 18.65.010, but only if the commissioner determines that the special officers have adequate police training. I don’t believe any such determination has been made or could be made.

There has been a lot of effort put into addressing rural public safety by many people over many years. The best idea to date has been the Village Public Safety Officer. The VPSO program puts trained public safety officers in remote villages, who work closely with, and under the oversight of, Alaska State Troopers. VPSOs are often village residents with knowledge of, and support of, the community. But the VPSO program has suffered from lack of state funding, and no federal funding at all.

Both the State of Alaska and the federal government have a moral, and in my opinion legal, responsibility for public safety in rural villages. The federal government has designated over 200 tribes in Alaska, mostly in rural villages, and the feds should participate more in funding the Department of Public Safety to enhance the ability of the Alaska State Troopers to provide adequate staffing, training and oversight to the VPSO program.

Instead of declaring emergencies, as a first step we need a group tasked to assess the situation and do a thorough problem analysis and review of the current statutes and regulations. This should include the Department of Interior (Bureau of Indian Affairs), Department of Justice (FBI and U.S. attorneys), an appropriate State of Alaska representatives, and a cross section of rural communities and governments. I would invite Congress (Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office, for example), and the Alaska Legislature. Public safety should not be a partisan issue. Let’s show Washington, D.C., that in Alaska we can get things done on a bipartisan basis, for the good of all.

I have 40 years of experience with law enforcement in Alaska, even going back before Alaska became a state. I can tell you the governor’s plan encouraging a federal takeover of village policing is simply a bad idea for rural Alaska.

During all of this time I never add any contact from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Why? At one time the FBI stated they were going to start investigating crime in the villages but that never came to pass.

Richard L. Burton was the commissioner of the State of Alaska Department of Public Safety from 1991-1995, and from 1975-1979. He resides in Ketchikan.

• Richard L. Burton was the commissioner of the State of Alaska Department of Public Safety from 1991-1995, and from 1975-1979. He resides in Ketchikan.

More in Opinion

Shana Loshbaugh (Courtesy photo)
History conference seeking input from peninsula people

The Alaska Historical Society will hold its annual conference on the central peninsula this fall

Coach Dan Gensel (left) prepares to get his ear pierced to celebrate Soldotna High School’s first team-sport state championship on Friday, Febr. 12, 1993 in Soldotna, Alaska. Gensel, who led the Soldotna High School girls basketball team to victory, had promised his team earlier in the season that he would get his ear pierced if they won the state title. (Rusty Swan/Peninsula Clarion)
Remembering my friend, Dan Gensel

It’s a friendship that’s both fixed in time and eternal

(Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The false gods in America’s gun culture

HB 61 is a solution in search of a problem.

KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland
Reflecting on a year of growth and resilience

A message from the superintendent

Jim Cockrell, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. (Courtesy photo/Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy)
Honoring the 69 peace officers who have died serving Alaskans

Alaska Peace Officer Memorial Day honors the brave men and women who have given their lives in the line of duty

Rep. Maxine Dibert (Image via Alaska State Legislature)
Opinion: The economic case for a significant investment in education

As our oil production and related revenue have declined, our investments in education have remained flat

Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion
Smoke from the Swan Lake Fire impairs visibility on the Sterling Highway on Aug. 20, 2019.
Don’t let the abundance of snow fool you; Alaskans should prepare for wildfire season

Last summer’s 590 wildfires burned more than 3.1 million acres in Alaska, about 41% of the total acreage burned in the U.S.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File
Former Gov. Frank Murkowski in May 2019.
Opinion: Statewide sales tax just doesn’t make ‘horse sense’

Money for the dividend was meant to be sized after State government services obligations had been met

The Alaska State Capitol. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Point of View: Big steps to strengthen child care system

Funding in the budget, statutory reforms and support from the administration are all necessary to strengthen the child care system in Alaska

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a news conference in which options for a long-range fiscal plan were discussed. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Tax talk should be paired with PFD pragmatism

Alaska is 30 years into state budget deficits, borrowing billions from savings to pay the bills.

Opinion: Seafood Producers Cooperative responds to WFC ruling

“I want to convey our great disappointment…”

Lawmakers, staff and other workers inside the The Alaska State Capitol are preparing this week for the upcoming session of the Alaska State Legislature that starts Jan. 17, including the release of the first round of prefile bills published Monday by the Legislative Affairs Agency. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Alaska Voices: Senate tax bills threaten critically needed community investment

Hilcorp Alaska’s role as a major sponsor of our race is a source of great pride