Gov. Mike Dunleavy appointed on Tuesday longtime Alaska law enforcement professional Jim Cockrell as commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. The appointment follows the departure of the previous commissioner, Amanda Price, in February.
At a news conference in Kenai, Dunleavy said Cockrell had the experience and the respect to lead the department. Cockrell served several assignments with the Alaska State Troopers and Alaska Wildlife Troopers starting in 1983, the governor’s office said in a news release. Cockrell retired as a colonel from the state troopers in 2017, according to the governor’s office.
“I am honored to be part of a strong and dedicated family in DPS and will continue the push to preserve the peace, enforce the law, prevent and detect crime, and protect the state’s wildlife, and life and property for every Alaskan,” Cockrell said at the conference.
Cockrell’s name was submitted to the Alaska State Legislature for confirmation, the governor’s office said. Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, was at the conference announcing the appointment and praised Cockrell’s service with the state. Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, said in a statement Senate Democrats were encouraged by Cockrell’s nomination.
Price abruptly left the department on Feb. 12, and later in a Facebook post claimed she was fired by the governor’s former Chief of Staff Ben Stevens for political reasons. One of the reasons she cited was her advocacy for improved 911 dispatch services in rural areas. In the post, Price accused the governor of prioritizing state contracts to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and Kenai Peninsula.
At the news conference Tuesday Dunleavy said as a policy, he doesn’t discuss personnel issues but the state was committed to ensuring all Alaskans have access to public safety services.
Alaska has the highest rates of sexual assault in the country, particularly in rural communities, according to the DPS. Lowering those rates is something the governor said was important to his administration.
“Public Safety and restoring law and order in Alaska is my No. 1 priority,” Dunleavy said, noting the state had made progress working through its massive backlog of untested sexual assault kits.
Dunleavy also announced his continued support for future funding of the Silvertip Maintainance Station on the Kenai Peninsula. The station serves the Turnagain Pass area of the Seward Highway and provides maintenance during the winter.
“Kenai area residents can rest assured that winter maintenance in the Turnagain Pass area of the Seward Highway will be in place for years to come,” Dunleavy said. “The safety of Alaskans and their families driving that section of the highway in winter is of the utmost importance for me and my administration.”
Funding for the station would be temporarily provided by CARES Act funding, the governor said, but would eventually be added to the state budget. Dunleavy campaigned on reducing state spending, and his cuts to the state budget have been controversial, but he said at the conference public safety was one of the essential duties of the government. There hadn’t been any reductions in state spending for public safety the governor said Tuesday, and in fact, the state would likely need to increase spending on public safety to solve some of the state’s issues.
Legislative Finance Director Alexei Painter told lawmakers in March the University of Alaska had reduced its budget by $60 million between fiscal years 2018 and 2022, but the budget for the Department of Corrections, which is separate from DPS, had grown by roughly the same amount.
Dunleavy faced criticism in the past for cuts to the Village Public Safety Officer program, which provides law enforcement to rural communities.
At the conference, Dunleavy thanked Alaska’s law enforcement officials and said he believed they were part of the reason Alaska did not experience rioting and other kinds of civil unrest that took place in several major U.S. cities over the summer.
“Part of that is a testament to the men and women in blue and brown,” Dunleavy said. “Community policing and outreach, et cetera.”
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.