DOJ declares law enforcement emergency in rural Alaska, bringing immediate funding

U.S. Attorney General William Barr meets with community members in Galena during his four-day visit to Alaska in late May, 2019. (Photo by the Department of Justice)

U.S. Attorney General William Barr got a first-hand look at the problems facing public safety in rural Alaska during a four-day visit to the state last month. What he saw was eye-opening and today he announced a law enforcement emergency in rural Alaska, making as much as $20 million available to directly boost public safety.

Barr visited Alaska for a four-day trip at the end of May that included trips to Galena, Bethel and Napaskiak that highlighted the issues facing rural Alaska, including a report that found 70 villages have no local police protection of any kind.

“In May, when I visited Alaska, I witnessed firsthand the complex, unique, and dire law enforcement challenges the State of Alaska and its remote Alaska Native communities are facing,” Barr said in an announcement. “With this emergency declaration, I am directing resources where they are needed most and needed immediately, to support the local law enforcement response in Alaska Native communities, whose people are dealing with extremely high rates of violence.”

The funding listed in the announcement includes $6 million “will go toward hiring, equipping and training Village Public Safety Officers, Village Police Officers and Tribal Police Officers working in rural Alaska, as well as for mobile detention facilities.” An additional $4.5 million will be made available through the Office on Community Oriented Policing Services for 20 more officer positions, equipment and training that will go directly to Alaska Native grantees by the end of July.

The declaration also makes funding available to support Children’s Advocacy Centers in hub areas of the state that will “provide wrap-around services, forensic interviews and medical exams for child victims.” The announcement says there’s $14 million available here between Alaska and Lower 48 facilities.

The work won’t end there as the declaration also sets out longer-term efforts to address public safety in rural Alaska through a newly formed Rural Alaska Violent Crime Reduction Working Group.

“I am also directing each component and law enforcement agency of the Justice Department to submit plans within the next 30 days to further support federal, state, and tribal public safety efforts in rural Alaska,” Barr said. “Lives depend on it, and we are committed to seeing a change in this unacceptable, daily reality for Alaska Native people.”

The Alaska Federation of Natives, the state’s largest Alaska Native organization, welcomed the announcement.

“We appreciate that U.S. Attorney General William Barr clearly understands the urgency of the public safety situation in rural Alaska,” said AFN President Julie Kitka in a prepared statement.

Kitka thanked everyone who helped put together Barr’s eye-opening trip to Alaska.

“AFN thanks U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan for hosting Attorney General Barr’s visit to the state last month,” Kitka said. “We also appreciate Alaska Native leaders for briefing Attorney General Barr and providing him a first-hand look at the severity of the public safety situation in Alaska villages.”

Barr pledged to keep Alaska Native leaders and communities closely involved in the work ahead.

“I want to be sure that the support this Department offers to Alaska Native communities will support solutions identified by the communities themselves,” said Attorney General Barr. “The only way for us to provide effective support is to work in partnership with others. This is true in Alaska and throughout Indian country.”

And there’s more

The announcement from the Department of Justice includes additional near-term measures that are outlined below:

  • The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) will issue an award for sexual assault training and technical assistance in Alaska, including training community health aides in Alaska Native villages to perform sexual assault forensic exams and training for victim advocates.  The project will include community sexual assault training, which will address coordinated responses to sexual assault across the community.  This award will also train village-based victim advocates to accompany victims throughout the process, including prosecution, as appropriate.
  • OVC is extending their application deadline for the Crime Victim Fund tribal set-aside solicitation (part of the $167 million available to tribes for victim services in FY 2019) to Aug. 16, 2019. This money may be used to fund direct services and advocacy, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis services, children advocacy programs, and elder abuse programs.
  • BJA is extending their application deadline to July 15, 2019, for programs that target mental health/drug addiction, reentry initiatives, and community crime reduction.
  • The COPS Office has two grant programs that it will reopen to afford Alaska the opportunity to apply:
    • The Anti-Methamphetamine Program (CAMP) is open to state law enforcement agencies with multijurisdictional reach and interdisciplinary team (e.g., task force) structures, in states with high seizures of precursor chemicals, finished methamphetamine, laboratories, and laboratory dump seizures.
    • The COPS Anti-Heroin Task Force (AHTF) Program is open to state law enforcement agencies with multi-jurisdictional reach and interdisciplinary team (e.g., task force) structures, in states with high per capita rates of primary treatment admissions.

Additional statements

Alaska’s Congressional Delegation released the following statements:

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski: “Around a month ago I had the opportunity to host Attorney General Barr in Bethel and Napaskiak so that he could see and to hear firsthand the challenges faced by Alaskans living in remote communities that are grappling with this public safety crisis. Today’s announcement shows that Attorney General Barr not only saw and heard Alaskans concerns but that he felt them in his heart. The announcement that came out of the Department of Justice today will direct more resources towards rural Alaska to increase the training and hiring of public safety officers, assist advocacy centers, improve victim services, and invest in many other much needed initiatives. This emergency declaration is a significant first step in creating a safer, more secure Alaska for everyone that calls it home. I appreciate the urgency that the Attorney General is placing on Alaska and our public safety situation and I look forward to working with him to further identify and implement lasting, systemic solutions to rural public safety and wellness in coordination with the Department of Justice.”

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan: “I want to thank Attorney General Barr and his team for not only coming to my state to hear from Alaskans about our public safety and law enforcement challenges, but for quickly taking concrete actions to help provide protections to Alaskans that most other Americans take for granted. As Alaskans know, we have a public safety crisis in our state, in both rural and urban areas. The statistics, particularly related to sexual assault and child abuse, are horrifying. But statistics don’t tell the full story. The full story comes from the people themselves—stories of heartbreak, and suffering, and wrecked lives. In extensive roundtables with federal, state and local law enforcement, victims’ rights groups, and community leaders in Anchorage, as well as in his travels to rural Alaska, General Barr and his team listened. This announcement indicates that he, and the Justice Department, are committed to helping the people in Alaska who need it the most.”

U.S. Rep. Don Young: “Alaskans know that our state’s vast geography presents unique challenges, especially for law enforcement in rural areas. The remoteness of countless communities – including Native villages – makes crime prevention and prosecution particularly difficult. Alaskans deserve peace of mind, and too many families are witnessing surging levels of crime in their once safe communities. Horrifying stories of homicide, sexual assault, and other violent crimes have recently made headlines, and we must be doing all that we can to bring perpetrators to justice. The declaration of a law enforcement emergency and the $6 million in federal funding that comes with it is welcome news not only for the families that have been victims of crime, but also for the children of Alaska who deserve to grow up in neighborhoods that are safe and secure. Attorney General Barr has been and continues to be an important partner for Alaska as we work to turn the tide in the fight against rising crime rates, and I am grateful for his ongoing support. I will continue working with the delegation to ensure that Alaska’s law enforcement agencies have the tools and resources they need to keep Alaskans safe.”

As well as these statements from Alaska leaders:

Vivian Korthuis, CEO for the Association of Village Council Presidents: “This declaration of a law enforcement emergency in rural Alaska is unprecedented, and significant news showing positive change for public safety in Alaska Native villages. AVCP has asked for protection and safety of our families andtribal communities, and Attorney General William Barr has heard us. We are not asking for anything less or anything more than any other community in Alaska or the United States. We thank Senator Murkowski, Senator Sullivan, and Congressman Young for their leadership in advocating for rural Alaska.”

Victor Joseph, Chief/Chairman of the Tanana Chiefs Conference: “The Alaska delegation and AG Barr have seen firsthand the public safety crisis in rural Alaska and today have honored the requests from tribal leaders who seek to create safe and healthy communities. This funding is greatly appreciated and will be used to expand law enforcement and enhance public safety, creating safer environments for our women and children in our rural communities.”

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1 Comment on "DOJ declares law enforcement emergency in rural Alaska, bringing immediate funding"

  1. Glad rural areas are getting help. So sorry this is about keeping our delegation, especially Lisa, on Trump’s short leash, and not really about law enforcement. Did our delegation read the Mueller report?

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