Leonard “Pete” Hicks, police chief of Bethel, joined the force on Sept. 12, 2022. Dec. 31, 2023 will be his last day.
Hicks submitted his resignation to the Bethel Human Resources department on Wednesday. In it, he said that he felt there was not much more he could do: “Both internal and external interference and challenges have hindered my ability to enforce and maintain discipline within the department.”
From Trussville, Ala. last year to Bethel, Alaska, Hicks has a 20+-year law enforcement background and is a military veteran. He has a bachelor’s degree in homeland security, law enforcement, firefighting, and related protective services. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy.
Hicks had served as lieutenant and chief investigator in the Criminal Investigations Division for the Moody Police Department in Moody, Ala. When he accepted the offer to lead the Bethel Police Department, the position had been vacant for several months year after the resignation of Police Chief Richard Simmons, a 25-year law enforcement officer who had moved from Fort Worth, Texas but lasted less than two years in Bethel.
Hicks was offered $130,786 and a $10,000 relocation budget when he accepted the job. His predecessor, Chief Simmons, was offered a $140,000 starting salary.
The job has not been posted at the City of Bethel’s website as of Saturday, Dec. 9. Lt. Jesse Poole served as interim chief between Simmons and Hicks, and will serve in that role again until a new chief is hired, which may take several months.
“I’ve enjoyed the community,” Hicks told a KYUK reporter. “I like the community. But I feel like I’ve reached a point where there’s just not much more I can do, and it will just probably be in everybody’s best interest at this point just to move on and let somebody else try.”
Bethel, located on the Kuskokwim River about 40 miles from the Bering Sea and 400 air miles from Anchorage, is a commercial hub and port for the entire Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta area of Alaska, and serves as a tribal hub. Bethel, with a population of about 6,300, is comprised of 83.3% Alaska Native (mainly Yupik).
During the Covid-19 panic of 2020 and 2021, city officials mandated that all municipal employees get Covid vaccines. About half of the police force refused. Chief Simmons, who left shortly after that forced vaccine dispute, has described Bethel as “one of the most violent communities in the nation.
His claim is backed up by a report from 247Wall Street, which said in 2020 that violent crime rate in Bethel ranks as the highest of the 12 cities in Alaska that are home to at least 5,000 people for which the FBI has data.