Alaska News

The public seems to love the new Alaska State Troopers look. Some retired troopers don’t.

PALMER — Maria York stroked the sparkling blue Alaska State Troopers recruiting car on display at the Alaska State Fair.

"It's so beautiful," York crooned. The Anchorage woman peered in the back of the SUV and admired the freshly vinyl-wrapped exterior.

The car bore a new door decal, replacing the old blue stripe and badge, with an image of the head of an angry-looking bear.

Instead of the longtime motto of "Loyalty, Integrity, Courage," a proposed new motto of "Guardians of the 49th" graced the car's flank.

"I like everything," York said.

Not everyone is so enamored with the proposed new look unveiled by the Alaska Department of Public Safety in August in a bid to entice more young recruits to a law-enforcement agency losing ground even as crime and population rise.

The bear and the motto rankle a corps of retirees led by former Department of Public Safety commissioner Richard Burton, who served under several governors including Wally Hickel and Jay Hammond.

The bear resembles a similar image on a video game and is better suited for a private security firm, Burton said.

The motto is an affront, he said. "We take it as kind of a slap in the face."

The people of Alaska are the guardians, retired trooper Brad Brown said in an email. Law enforcement are the peace keepers.

Brown wrote a letter to Gov. Bill Walker and other top officials criticizing the motto and the "poor likeness of a bear" for a logo.

"This proposed change needs to be stopped dead in its tracks as a waste of the public safety budget and in my opinion, makes the Troopers look like they have plenty of money to blow on this ridiculous project," he wrote.

There are more than 200 comments on a closed public-safety Facebook group, Burton said. Only one was in favor.

The logo and motto are a work in progress, public safety officials say.

It's possible that the core values — loyalty, integrity, courage — will be added back to vehicles in light of the negative feedback, said Department of Public Safety spokesman Jonathon Taylor.

Generally, the rebranding is part of "our ongoing advertising we're doing for recruitment" and cost about $15,000, Taylor said. There are no immediate plans to start rewrapping vehicles with the new look.

The logo was selected in consultation with 10 wildlife and patrol troopers of different ranks, he said. Designers took a stock royalty-free image — yes, the same one used by a video game — and tweaked it.

"It's bold, it's different, and we believe will allow us to reach more people, particularly younger generations of Alaskans," Taylor said.

The makeover for trooper vehicles is being driven, state officials say, by a hiring crunch.

The troopers are more than 50 positions short out of nearly 400 authorized. The money is there. But there aren't enough new hires to replace outgoing ones.

The governor dubbed the situation a "retention crisis" when he announced a 7.5 percent pay increase for patrol and wildlife troopers on Wednesday, with plans to request another 7.5 percent from the Legislature.

Before the increase, a state trooper recruit without a Bachelor's degree received a base starting salary of nearly $63,000 a year, according to the state's trooper recruiting website, which already includes the "Guardians of the 49th" motto.

A candidate with five years of law-enforcement experience moving into the troopers could earn almost $80,000 base pay.

Pay rates can increase up to 60 percent in more remote locations.

Recruitment is already improving, officials say. The trend started before the new logo and motto were unveiled.

There were only four academy attendees a few years ago, Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan noted during the press conference. There are 21 in the current class that began in July.

Nearly 1,000 people applied to be troopers this year, according to Sgt. David Willson, with the agency's recruiting unit. But the agency accepts 3 or 4 percent of them, and it takes months to get candidates fully prepared — 18 weeks at the academy, plus field training.

If he hired someone now, Willson said as he worked the fair, they wouldn't hit the street until April 2020.

Pay increases will help recruit and retain troopers, he said. So would restoring state pensions that disappeared in 2006.

Willson said fair goers are complimenting the cars, a first in his experience — and an opening for him to engage some potential new recruits.

"They're coming in and saying, 'I love the new look,'" he said. "We've got to reach out. We've got this mobile billboard."