Scores of convicted criminals have been hired as cops in rural Alaska
Alaskan police depts hired dozens of police officers “despite [their] disqualifying past criminal convictions”
Sometimes, these candidates were the only applicants
One village the entire force had domestic violence convictions
Underfunded: A handmade sign in the Stebbins public safety building, where village police officers, hired by the city, hold inmates and prepare for village patrols.
Alaskan police departments hired dozens of police officers with criminal records, including a village in which the entire force had domestic violence convictions, according to an investigation by ProPublica and the Anchorage Daily News.
At least 14 cities’ police departments hired more than 34 convicted criminals, according to the investigation, and an additional eight communities have hired tribal police officers convicted of domestic violence or sex crimes, according to the report released last week.
The city governments did not comply with requirements that they report the hires to the state regulatory board in all but three cases, and numerous officers identified remain on the job, including to the investigation.
“It’s outrageous that we have a situation where we have a, such a lack of public safety that communities are resorting to hiring people who have the propensity for violence,” Melanie Bahnke, a board member for the Alaska Federation of Natives, which represents 191 tribes, told the Adn.com.
Street scene from everyday life in Stebbins. The Bering Strait village, home to 646 people all native Alaskans has no Alaska State Troopers post or state-funded village public safety officer
A typical case is the town of Stebbins, a Bering Strait village is home to 646 people and it’s local police force.
Stebbins has no Alaska State Troopers post or state-funded village public safety officer. The city employed seven village police officers as of July 1.
The Report by Adn.com mentions the case of Nimeron Mike, 43, who applied to be a city police officer here last New Year’s Eve, although he didn’t really expect to get the job.
Mike is a registered sex offender and had served six years behind bars in Alaska jails and prisons with a list of priors that includes convictions for assault, domestic violence, vehicle theft, groping a woman, hindering prosecution, reckless driving, drunken driving and choking a woman unconscious in an attempted sexual assault.
“My record, I thought I had no chance of being a cop,” Mike, 43, said.
However, after Nimeron Mike filled out the application, the city of Stebbins hired him same day, handing him a policeman’s cellphone to answer calls for help.
“Am I a cop now?” he remembers thinking. “It’s like, that easy?”
Substitute Village Police Officer Robert Kirk, walks past boarded windows in the Stebbins public safety building
Stebbins Village Police Officer John Aluska also has a criminal record, but said it does not interfere with his police work
In the face of these flagrant malpractice Melanie Bahnke interviewed by the paper said “It’s outrageous that we have a situation where we have a, such a lack of public safety that communities are resorting to hiring people who have the propensity for violence,” Bahnke, a board member for the Alaska Federation of Natives, which represents 191 tribes, told the Adn.com.
“And placing them in a position where they have control over people and possibly could victimize the victims further,” she added.
The officers’ records would preclude their hiring by the Anchorage Police Department or with a similarly-sized city’s department, as well as Alaska state troopers or as private security in most of the U.S.
Bob Griffiths, director of the Alaska Police Standards Council, said enforcement is all but impossible because the agency’s resources are already stretched with handling complaints and appeals involving certified officers, and it lacks the means to visit rural areas”.
A key part of the problem is there just are not enough state troopers or other state-funded law enforcement officers to go around.
When it comes to boots-on-the-ground law enforcement, village police officers and tribal police officers working in Alaska villages are at least as common. Yet no one keeps track of who these officers are, where they are working, if they’ve passed a background check or if they’ve received any training.
Nimeron Mike, [photo] worked as a village police officer for his hometown of Stebbins from Dec. 31 to March 29. Mike was hired even though he is a registered sex offender and had served six years behind bars in state jails and prisons for felonies
The state agency that regulates Alaska police had suspended efforts to resolve this policing crises. Compounding the problem, the affected parts of rural Alaska have some of the highest rates of domestic and sexual assault nationwide, and in cases relying on arrests by people with criminal records, prosecutors often drop or reduce charges rather than put them on the stand, according to the report.
The report notes that the state recognizes that most villages can’t afford their own police force and has a special class of law enforcement, called village public safety officers, to help. But it’s not working.
In the face of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget cuts for for the Justice Department, Some Alaska Native leaders expressed the belief that in the 60 years since Alaska became a state, that a string of governors and Legislatures have failed to protect indigenous communities by creating an unconstitutional, two-tiered criminal justice system that leaves villagers unprotected compared with their mostly white counterparts in the cities and suburbs.
ProPublica and the Anchorage Daily News reported in May that one in three Alaska communities, about 70 communities altogether and nearly all of them Alaska Native, had no local law enforcement at some point this year. Many are in regions with the highest rates of poverty, sexual assault and suicide.
The Trump administration reacted to the exposé when U.S. Attorney General William Barr declared a “law enforcement emergency” in rural Alaska, announcing $10.5 million increase in Justice Department spending to support as part of a sweeping plan to support law enforcement in Alaska Native villages.
The announcement came in the wake of the investigation by the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica, which highlighted the policing disparities in the state.