“Enough Is Enough”: Native Leaders Ask William Barr to Help Fix Alaska’s Law Enforcement Crisis
May 30, 2019
Radio Free - radiofree.org
Radio Free never takes money from corporations, keeping our focus on people, not profits. Radio Free is an independent, free news organization headquartered in Tucson, Arizona. We are currently in need of community volunteers to help cover local politics. To learn more and get involved, please visit radiofree.org.
Greg Razo of Cook Inlet Region, Inc. speaks to U.S. Attorney General William Barr during a Native justice roundtable Wednesday, May 29, 2019, at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes/Anchorage Daily News)
The number of VPSOs, police who are trained, certified and funded by the state, has dwindled from more than 100 officers in 2012 to 42 this year. Ralph Andersen, of Bristol Bay Native Association, said that more VPSOs are in danger of quitting because of uncertainty over the future of the program. Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed cutting $3 million from the VPSO program budget this year because of job vacancies, although legislators rejected the cut.
Andersen said three VPSOs serve 31 communities in his Southwest Alaska region that’s the size of Ohio.
Richard Peterson, president of the Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, drew chuckles from Barr when he said the meeting was so important he’d canceled his post-winter trip to Hawaii to be there.
“No pressure [on me],” Barr said, laughing.
Peterson said there are people in his region who feel like the state is more concerned with investigating hunting violations than homicides.
“I’ve heard elders that I love and respect say they feel that a Tlingit means less to the state of Alaska than a moose,” he said, describing the killing of a 19-year-old woman in one village where, he said, it took nearly a day for investigators to arrive.
As a young man, Peterson said he was held at gunpoint in a Southeast Alaska village by someone high on methamphetamine. “It took troopers six hours to get there,” he said.
During his visit, Barr will visit Galena, in the Interior, and Napaskiak and Bethel, in Southwest Alaska. He’s also meeting with officials in Anchorage.