The glaring failures of law enforcement in Alaska Native and rural communities was spotlighted Thursday at the Alaska Federation of Natives’ annual conference in Fairbanks.
“I recognize the depth of need in Alaska,” said Attorney General William Barr, who teleconferenced in from Washington, D.C. “It faces unique challenges in the public safety arena.”
Barr visited Alaska in May, declaring an emergency for public safety across rural Alaska. The announcement grants millions of dollars for personnel and infrastructure.
“The challenge is very great,” Barr said. “I understand the problem is very serious, but I look forward to working with you and others to enhancing safety in Alaska Native villages.”
Others, including U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and officials from the Department of Public Safety, Alaska State Troopers,and FBI took part in the discussion about the dearth of effective law enforcement in the rural parts of Alaska.
“I think that the public safety crisis in Alaska has been persistent and prevalent,” Alaska Department of Public Safety Amanda Price said. “I believe that we do have a crisis of public safety in our state.”
A number of issues detract from the ability of law enforcement officials and court systems to function efficiently. Some of these include lack of funding for the Village Public Safety Officer program, which trains entrants to the program the fundamentals of acting as both a law enforcement and public safety officer in rural villages. The program has had a number of successes, Price said, but lack of funding hurts it badly, as it’s unable to hire or retain officers.
Another panel on the violence against Alaska Native women and children drove that point home, as law enforcement officials and sexual assault survivors talked about the vast failings to protect women and children in rural Alaska.
“I think it goes to show that we all have some personal responsibility here,” Anna Sattler David, a member of the panel, said. “Yes, we have some national distinctions that aren’t fun to look at. Suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse. There’s child sexual assault. It’s the rape culture that we all know about.”
David urged people to hold those who commit these crimes accountable, to stop them from inflicting wounds in the souls of children that would scar them for their entire lives, and to take action rather than just paying lip service.
“We know who’s preying on children,” said Cynthia Ericson, a member of the public. “Some of them are our leaders. We’re gonna bury a hell of a lot more children if we don’t start walking our talk.”
The conference ended with commitments to continued improvement, and the promises of wise use of the funds cut loose for Alaska by the emergency declaration.
“I am a woman and I have experienced violence in my home,” Price said. “I look different and I am different than every prior commissioner for the Department of Public Safety. I do believe in telling the truth and making systematic improvements to our system to support you in your communities.”
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or email@example.com.