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Report: Alaska police officer staffing is below national average

Jerzy Shedlock

Researchers at the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Justice Center released data on Friday showing the state’s ratio of sworn police officers to citizens falls well below the national average.

The Alaska Justice Statistical Analysis Center used figures for two decades spanning 1982 to 2012, provided by three agencies: the Alaska Department of Public Safety, the Criminal Records and Identification Bureau, and the FBI.

On average, over the two decades studied, the ratio of sworn police officers to citizens in Alaska was 1.8 per 1,000, compared to 2.2 per 1,000 nationwide.

“Since 1984, Alaska’s police-citizen ratio has lagged behind the rest of the United States,” the fact sheet said.

Analysis center researcher Khristy Parker said she does not have a definitive answer for why the national and Alaska ratios diverged.

In 2012, 39 law enforcement agencies provided employee information to the Department of Public Safety. They represented 81.3 percent of all the state’s law enforcement agencies but served almost all Alaskans -- they provide police services to 99.4 percent of Alaska’s population, according to analysis center fact sheet, “State and Local Law Enforcement Personnel in Alaska: 1982-2012.”

Of the reporting agencies, more than half employed 25 or fewer employees.

Nine agencies did not provide statistics.

The Department of Public Safety’s annual crime report does not collect data from Native corporations or their law enforcement agencies, so the officer count does not include village public safety officers -- unarmed peace officers employed by Native nonprofit corporations with state funding. Money from the state is passed through to the nonprofits, covering the officers’ salaries and benefits. But the nonprofits write the paychecks and decide whom to hire.

As of February, there were 88 village public safety officers serving about the same number of communities.

Only the Department of Public Safety and the Anchorage Police Department employed more than 100 people in the two decades examined. DPS -- which includes the Alaska State Troopers -- employed 637 people in 2012 while APD had 511 employees during the same year.

APD is currently understaffed. As of May, there were 327 sworn and fully trained officers in the police department. And even if all cadets who began police academy that month and others amid months of field training attain permanent spots, the number of sworn officers in Anchorage would still fall short of the 375 sworn officers recommended by a 2010 Police Executive Research Forum report.

Researchers also examined the number of sworn officers to civilian employees within law enforcement agencies. Statewide, the ratio has remained stable with an average of 1.7 officers for every civilian employee. However, APD has 2.7 sworn officers to every civilian employee.

“The stability in Alaska’s sworn police officer to civilian personnel ratio differs from the national trend, which shows a steady decline from 1982 to 2009, stabilizing at 2.3 since 2010,” the fact sheet said.

Lastly, the fact sheet provides information on the number of women policing Alaska. From 1988 to 2012, the number of sworn female officers increased from 6.3 percent to 8.3 percent of all state sworn police officers. Anchorage’s police department employed a larger portion of female officers -- 14 percent in 2012 -- than the Department of Public Safety, at 4.3 percent.

Nationally, nearly 12 percent of all sworn officers were female in 2012, according to the fact sheet.