In late 2014, as Gov. Bill Walker was taking office, he assembled his transition team to help develop his list of priorities. It was chaired by Rick Halford and Ana Hoffman, and the document produced for the governor by the transition team is an inch thick. It touches on nearly every topic in Alaska.
Eight pages of the 176-page report were devoted to public safety. Half of that was about beefing up communications and infrastructure capabilities for the general safety of the public, and working on “smart justice” to take justice in a new direction.
“There is a misperception that “smart on crime” means being ‘soft on crime.’There is general widespread ignorance of the large cost savings available for justice reform.” – Walker/Mallott Transition Team Report, November, 2014
The rest of the transition team report covered in great depth tribal sovereignty, tribe-to-state intergovernmental relations, reestablishing coastal zone management, implementing the United Nations Millennium Agreement, revenue sharing with tribes, subsistence, Arctic engagement, fiscal plans, fisheries, reforming Corrections, Medicaid, economic development. And a gasline. The gasline would be the focus, the plan acknowledged.
Weeks later, in his first State of the State Address of 2015, Gov. Walker said nothing of public safety.
At his Sustainability Conference in Fairbanks in June of 2015, Public Safety was not a priority for his room of advisers.
Today, Gov. Walker held a press conference to outline new steps for public safety, which he admits has spiraled into a crisis on his watch. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, almost always by his side, was missing, but Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, and Commissioners Valerie Davidson (HHS), Dean Williams (Corrections), and Walt Monegan (Public Safety) all spoke.
Walker’s public safety action plan shows his intent to study, evaluate, and explore various remedies for crime, but the plan is short on actual targets, milestones or timelines that would be measurable by the public, other than increasing the number of treatment beds for addicts.
But at least as his first term enters its final year, Walker now understands public safety as a priority.
Walker Public Safety Action Plan: Summary October 30, 2017
To address the trend of increasing crime in Alaska, Governor Walker tasked the State’s public safety agencies with evaluating the causes of the rise in crime and developing a concrete action plan. While public safety is a complex and evolving challenge, the Public Safety Action Plan focuses efforts in four main areas: fairness and efficiency in the criminal justice system, addressing the resource needs of Alaska’s public safety agencies, improving the system for addressing mental health and substance abuse issues, and addressing the immediate challenges of the opioid epidemic and drug trafficking.
To improve outcomes in the criminal justice system, public safety agencies will:
- Continue to evaluate the impacts of criminal justice reform legislation passed in 2016;
- Work to pass Senate Bill 54 (2017);
- Begin reviewing clemency applications; and
- Evaluate law governing exoneration and expungement for potential changes.
To identify public safety resource needs, public safety agencies will:
- Use existing resources more efficiently by developing tools to better share data among stateagencies and taking other steps to improve interagency sharing and collaboration;
- Leverage technology to increase agencies’ capacity and improve communications, including creating a statewide domestic violence and sexual assault hotline and adding telecommunication resources in rural jails;
- Increase local capacity to contribute to public safety, including strengthening the VPSO program, expanding options for tribal courts to provide civil remedies for certain state law violations, and stepping up efforts to educate local law enforcement officers about evidentiary standards; and
- Request additional resources, such as more troopers and prosecutors.
To improve access to mental health and substance abuse treatment, public safety agencies will:
- Work to increase the space available at treatment facilities and explore ways to improve process and avoid unnecessary delays in getting people needed treatment;
- Evaluate and develop a long-term strategy for Title 47 holds; and
- Explore legislative options to improve processes for criminal cases involving mental health and competency concerns.
To address the opioid epidemic and drug trafficking, state agencies will:
- Implement the Strategic Plan for Responding to the Opioid Epidemic;
- Commit more resources to combating drug trafficking, including prosecutors and drug dogs;
- Seek additional funding and capacity through federal partnerships; and
- Propose legislation to enable law enforcement to respond more effectively to the threats posed by drug trafficking.