State agencies officially join forces

Posted: Tuesday, August 05, 2003

The commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety announced Monday that a plan to merge the state's two law enforcement agencies into a single department will go forward.

Commissioner Bill Tandeske said Monday that the Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection will become a statewide bureau within the Division of Alaska State Troopers. The new bureau will be known as the Alaska Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement.

According to deputy commissioner Ted Bachman, the change will not have an effect on the way fish and wildlife laws are enforced on the Kenai Peninsula.

"It won't change," Bachman said Monday following the announcement.

However, Bachman did say Fish and Wildlife troopers may find themselves doing a bit more traditional law enforcement, but only when they're not working on wildlife issues.

"It is certainly not out of the question that they would do some trooper duties," he said. "But they do that anyway."

Bachman said one main reasons for the reorganization is to increase cooperation between troopers and Fish and Wildlife officers.

"It will give us a better understanding of the dragons faced by both sides and, hopefully, we'll work cooperatively to slay some of them," he said.

The plan to merge Fish and Wildlife Protection into troopers has been in the works for several months. Tandeske announced the plan in March, and Bachman said most people in the department have been planning for the reorganization for some time.

That announcement was followed by criticism from some on the Fish and Wildlife side that the plan isn't in the best interest of wildlife issues. The head of the division, Col. Joel Hard, resigned in May in response to the planned reorganization.

Bachman said he's heard some grumbling about the plan, but that's to be expected with any major change, he added.

"Any time you have a major reorganization you have people on both ends of the spectrum."

Bachman said, however, he anticipates a smooth transition for protection officers because their work will actually change very little. The bureau will still be based in the same office on Kalifornsky Beach Road, and he said no plans are in the works to cut any positions.

"It will probably mean very little for the people on the ground," he said.

Bachman said the change will mean that regional commanders will now be responsible for reporting to a captain in Anchorage. He compared the plan to how the department's drug enforcement unit operates, where regional commanders report to a central office.

The reorganization process is expected to last through the next legislative session, when a budget for the Department of Public Safety is settled upon. Until then, Bachman said the department will work to smooth over any glitches that arise from combining its two largest divisions.

"We will work through any of the little things that are certain to pop up," he said.

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