Posted February 20, 2017 08:01 pm
We’re lifelong Alaskans, concerned citizens, and police officers. We love Alaska. We take pride in our career, and in serving and protecting Alaskans.
But we are concerned for your and our safety. Crime and violence has gotten worse. No Alaska city or town is immune. No neighborhood is safe.
A couple of downtown city blocks in Anchorage are prime examples of the increased crime and violence. Last summer, at Valley of the Moon park, two young, innocent people were shot and murdered. A couple months later, at the corner of 15th and E street, near a middle and an elementary school, a man was shot and murdered in the street. The Anchorage School District responded by ordering the schools closed so students did not have to witness the crime scene or the investigation. In November, the same downtown schools went into lock down, mid-day, as Anchorage police chased two burglars near the schools.
Crime like this happens in all Anchorage neighborhoods. Gun shots are heard frequently, cars and homes are broken into and property crime, petty and serious, happens every day. This happens too frequently in all Alaska communities.
The increase in crime and violence puts Alaska police officers, both urban and rural, in danger. In the past two years, Alaska State Troopers Gabe Rich, Scott Johnson were murdered by ambush in Tanana. Last October, Fairbanks police Sgt. Alan Brandt lost his life in an ambush. A month later, Anchorage Officer Arn Salao almost died in an incident similar to Sgt. Brandt’s murder.
Alaskans are fed up with the crime and violence. In the Mat-Su Valley, residents recently filled a town hall meeting to speak out and tell politicians that they were sick of it. Residents gave legislators an earful about the lack of public safety. Complaints included the increase in property crime, the heroin epidemic, and criminals being too easily released because of criminal justice reform. Valley residents demanded more State Trooper presence.
Alaska’s public safety crisis will get worse before it gets better. One reason we’re in crisis is that the Alaska Department of Public Safety, and many municipal police departments, don’t have enough police officers. Trooper staffing levels are at their lowest levels since 1990, but Alaska’s population has grown by 150,000 people since then. In the last two years, the legislature cut trooper positions by 10%. Because of trooper cuts, the communities of Talkeetna, McGrath, Ninilchik, Girdwood, Yakutat and Galena no longer have a local trooper. Plans are now in the works to eliminate the trooper post in Haines.
Trooper cuts impact rural residents’ safety tremendously and differently than urban Alaska. Most rural residents don’t have local police agencies. They often wait for trooper help. Their wait will now be longer. Trooper travel budgets have been reduced, as have the trooper aircraft sections. Troopers will no longer make routine village trips, provide a law enforcement presence, and deter crime.
Alaskans should expect more vehicle accidents, injuries and deaths. The state has made huge reductions in highway patrol troopers, eliminating positions in Fairbanks, Soldotna and the Mat-Su Valley. Without these patrols, fatalities have increased.
Staffing cuts have unintended consequences. More people die and crimes go unreported or not investigated. Troopers and municipal police are burdened with more dangerous jobs because there isn’t backup or as much help in dangerous situations. Excellent troopers and police officers are taking their training and experience to better staffed, better paying and safer departments.
That’s happening here. In 2016, 22 Alaska troopers (or 7.5%) resigned, and most went to work at agencies with more staff, better pay, pensions and more benefits. This exodus will continue unless we stop the cuts and make the police work more attractive by competing in the market place.
As police, it is our job to run into a crisis, help people and fix the problem. We hope our politicians will follow that lead, run to our public safety crisis and fix it. The Governor and legislature can start by funding public safety. Please contact the Governor, and your legislators, and tell them to fund public safety.
Jess Carson is president of the Public Safety Employees Association, Local 803 and Doug Massie is president of the DPS Chapter, PSEA Local 803.