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Shuttered village police department to reopen Saturday, city says

Kyle Hopkins

The St. Paul police department, which closed mysteriously and unexpectedly on Tuesday, is expected to reopen Saturday, the city manager said.

The closure follows months of tension between some residents of the remote Bering Sea village and the small, city police staff. Some residents, in a petition to the city and speaking at a June public meeting, have accused police of cultural insensitivity, intimidation and bullying behavior. A consultant hired by the city to investigate the department said he found no civil rights violations.

City Manager Linda Snow said she closed the three-person department this week because a police officer and sergeant have been placed on paid administrative leave. She would not say why the police employees are on leave.

The city paid to fly the officer and sergeant out of the village on Wednesday and it's unclear when they will return to work, she said.

"They left for the good of all concerned parties on the island," Snow said.

St. Paul is an Aleut village of about 480 people, 300 miles west of the Alaska mainland and a three-hour flight from Anchorage. Alaska State Troopers have been handling 911 calls within the village during the department closure.

The departures left the city without a police officer because police chief Kevin Alberg already was out of town on medical leave, Snow said. "There was nothing left to do but close the offices."

The city has hired former St. Paul police chief Gerald Meece to temporarily return to the village, Snow said. Meece will work as a community services officer and run the public safety department until a newly hired sergeant begins work on about Dec. 15, Snow said.

At a June 27 city council meeting, village residents told council members that police had been intimidating residents and acting unprofessionally, according to a recording of the meeting.

One woman told the council that police label village residents "drunkards" and drug addicts. St. Paul resident Thomas Bourdukofsky told the council a police officer had been driving closely behind him lately with his high beams on.

"We don't want to even leave our house anymore, because we're worried about the cops," Bourdukofsky said.

Villagers filed a petition with the city calling for "public safety cultural awareness and community sensitivity," leading the city to hire a consultant to investigate the complaints and review police conduct in the village.

In an August report, Skagway police officer David Sexton wrote that he found no evidence of civil rights violations or use of excessive force committed by police in the village. St. Paul residents said they had planned to protest police behavior at a Wednesday council meeting that was later canceled.

A trooper spokeswoman said the city notified troopers on Sunday that it would need help fielding emergency 911 calls. On Tuesday, the St. Paul public safety department posted a notice on its Facebook page saying the department was temporarily closed.

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AUDIO: St. Paul residents tell city council of police department intimidation
REPORT: Read a consultant’s findings on the St. Paul police department