Dunleavy administration turns to familiar face to head Alaska Department of Public Safety

Colonel Jim Cockrell.

The former head of the Alaska State Troopers has been tapped by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to head the Department of Public Safety after a rough split with the last commissioner.

Retired Colonel Jim Cockrell’s appointment to the commissioner’s office of the Department of Public Safety was announced by the governor today at a meeting with troopers in Kenai. He replaces former Commissioner Amanda Price, who resigned abruptly earlier this year amid a dispute with the Dunleavy administration over personnel decisions.

Cockrell began working with the Department of Public Safety in 1983. He retired as a major with the Troopers in 2004, returned to service almost immediately to coordinate with a federal enforcement program, retired in 2007 and then was tapped to head the Alaska State Troopers in 2014, a position he served in through 2017.

“Jim Cockrell has the experience and respect to lead this department and continue to keep Alaskans safe statewide,” Dunleavy said in a prepared statement.

“I will work tirelessly to get you the tools to do your jobs,” Cockrell said at the announcement, according to a report by KTOO, and hopes to make a lasting difference for the service.

In a law enforcement-centric podcast, Fight in Progress, recorded earlier this year, Cockrell said he believes law enforcement should put more emphasis on the well-being of its members from both a physical and mental health perspective. He said the shooting deaths of two troopers in 2014 has weighed on him and detailed a policy where he would quietly provide troopers with mental health counseling in order to avoid the stigma.

“I think we owe an obligation to our officers that we provide the best training of not only on how to deal with conflict and de-escalation, but we also have an obligation for their health,” he said. “I think we owe it to our troopers, our dispatchers, our employees to give them the best possible support we can.”

In the same podcast, he also recognized the high rates of domestic and sexual abuse in Alaska but said he doesn’t have a clear solution to the problem. He said that it likely can’t be resolved just through law enforcement but “a cultural shift” in villages.

His experience is a stark contrast to Price, who faced opposition to appointment because she lacked any direct experience in law enforcement. Price resigned over an apparent dispute dealing with the head of the Alaska Wildlife Troopers, Doug Massie, a Dunleavy ally. Since resigning, Price has been critical of the Dunleavy administration—criticizing the administration over a proposal that would allow snowmachines and ATVs to operate on most roadways—but sent Cockrell a congratulations about what were at the time his rumored appointment on April 2.

“I understand that former colonel of the Alaska State Troopers Jim Cockrell has been named as Commissioner for DPS,” she said in a post. “I wish Jim a warm congratulations and great success!”

Cockrell’s appointment will be subject to a vote of the Legislature in joint session, but he has already got positive reception from the progressive Senate Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich released a statement applauding the appointment.

“The Senate Democrats are encouraged by Col. Cockrell, who has a distinguished career of leadership within the Department,” he said. “I look forward to working with Col. Cockrell and await his confirmation before the full legislature.”

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