Natives who filed lawsuit say more troopers needed in the Bush

Posted: Tuesday, April 09, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska State Troopers have provided more officers in rural Alaska, but those efforts aren't enough to cure an imbalance in law enforcement between rural and urban Alaska, Native leaders testified Monday.

Mike Williams and Willie Kasayulie are plaintiffs in a lawsuit that argues that the state operates an ineffective and racially separate public safety program in rural villages.

They testified Monday about the difficulty of hiring and retaining village public safety officers.

They and other witnesses say low pay, lack of training, too little authority and the stress of facing dangerous situations with no backup contribute to high VPSO turnover and leave many villages with no public safety protection.

In response to a questions from attorneys, Williams said he supports Public Safety Commissioner Glenn Godfrey's efforts to station more troopers in rural Alaska.

''I think those efforts are very commendable, and I think those efforts are worthwhile,'' Williams said. ''But I think more can be done.''

The absence of fully trained, uniformed officers in villages encourages bootleggers and leaves residents on their own to cope with alcohol-fueled assaults and domestic violence, said Williams, an Akiak resident who chairs the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council. He also is a longtime substance abuse counselor and sobriety advocate.

There are no VPSOs in Akiak, Williams said.

He said that he has intervened to stop drunken assaults and that victims sometimes come to his home for shelter. But intervening in such situations is risky, he said.

''People who are intoxicated are unpredictable,'' Williams said.

Kasayulie, a former chairman of the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council and longtime tribal leader in Akiachak, and Joseph Alexie, a former tribal council member in Tuluksak, said their villages have used federal grants to hire village or tribal police officers. But the grants are for a fixed term, usually three years, and no permanent financing method exists to continue paying officers.

Akiak is 18 miles upriver from Bethel, the nearest troopers outpost. Troopers respond to major crimes like rape, Kasayulie said, but for other crimes, response is much slower or nonexistent, he said.

Akiak's tribal government uses a traditional justice system to preserve the peace, he said, but it's important to have trained police officers as a backstop.

''Having a uniformed officer visible is a deterrent for people committing crimes,'' Kasayulie said.

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