By LARRY WOOD
Gov. Michael Dunleavy has started his comprehensive public safety plan by putting an end to the insanity that was SB91. However, the plan has yet to address the 1,200-pound polar bear in the room, which is the lack of any law enforcement in many villages in the Bush.
It is time that the State get serious about amending the Constitution to allow for elected sheriffs as part of a long term solution.
The U.S. Attorney General has announced a total grant of $42M to be applied to the problem. There has been as of yet no announcement as to how the money will be spent. If it goes to the villages directly, kiss it good-bye.
Without addressing the need to upgrade both the courts and Corrections in the Bush, more police officers will produce more offenders, but there will be no way to process them, or imprison them, given the growing backlog of cases and the closure of Palmer Correctional Center.
It is unlikely that the $42 million would buy enough new police officers to make a difference, given the lack of qualified candidates.
Neither the Alaska State Troopers, Corrections, or the National Guard are able to meet their recruiting quotas, because of the lack of qualified candidates. The integrity of America’s core demographic is rapidly disintegrating.
Over 72 percent of those 17-24 across the country are ineligible for military service due to physical, criminal, and/or education disqualifications.
In Alaska, it is the 17-34-year-old demographic living in the Bush that reflects the systemic failures in our education system, the collapse of the family, and a lack of respect for education and the law. Greater than 99 percent of those ages 17-34 living in the Bush are ineligible for military service due to education and/or criminal record disqualifications.
If you can’t enlist, you certainly cannot hope to become a police officer or corrections officer.
So, how can this $42 million produce any benefit or act to relieve the suffering of those abused? The bodies are simply not there to provide the qualified first responders. And, there is a decided lack of criminal justice infrastructure to support a major increase in law enforcement in the Bush.
The regional Native corporations and the village corporations need to be willing to act to work in concert with the state and federal government to provide the criminal justice and law enforcement facilities, mental health and substance abuse facilities and the training for personnel in the Bush. And, it is time they paid their fair share of the cost of providing those facilities. The onus would also be upon the organized an unorganized boroughs to bear part of the cost of their sheriff’s departments.
In the face of the law enforcement crisis in the Bush, the federal government continues to act to restrict Alaska’s ability to produce revenue from royalties from mineral, timber, and fish and to restrict tourism by maintaining the abuse of our Statehood Compact that is the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act — ANILCA.
Either the federal government cough up sufficient funding, and $42 million is just a drop in this bucket, or the federal government can repeal ANILCA and return the management of federal lands to the state, end any other restrictive land use changes, and let the state have at the process of putting the land to work for the people. In either case, the federal government has a tremendous liability in this issue.
The reality of the Bush is the lack of law enforcement manpower, the lack of qualified applicants, geography, time and distance. The sheriffs and their deputies would need to be more peace officer than police officer, like the old Territorial Police.
Alaska Police Standards Council standards would need to be set aside for the sheriffs departments until time, money, and qualified candidates were forthcoming.
The Department of Corrections might have to ignore APSC standards for Bush positions for the same reason.
The courts would need to get serious about televising court proceedings to allow an offender in any Alaska village, town or city to appear in court. More jails would need to be built with facilities to televise a court proceeding and to house corrections and sheriff’s deputies on their “rounds” between villages. Every court room in the state should have a televised hearing capability.
The sheriff would be elected for a four-year term by the qualified voters of a borough or unorganized borough.
The Village Public Safety Officer program would end, and the VPSOs would become deputies providing a core for future expansion.
An amendment authorizing an elected sheriff’s office would give accountability to the people of the organized and unorganized boroughs in how their law enforcement operated.
The villages would see sheriffs and deputies more than they would the Alaska State Troopers. The deputies would be known to the villagers and sufficiently trained as VPSOs to serve as “frontier” deputies to a sheriff.
The burden in the Bush would be reduced for the Alaska State Troopers.
The fed’s $42 million would either be a good start to a long term solution, or a really good time for a few families in the Bush.
Larry Wood is a 65-year Alaska resident living on Lazy Mountain.