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Crime & Courts

U.S. Attorney General announces additional $42 million for rural Alaska public safety

  • Author: Kyle Hopkins
  • Updated: October 17
  • Published October 17

Delegates applaud a public safety session Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019 during the Alaska Federation of Natives convention at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

FAIRBANKS — The U.S. Department of Justice will give $42 million to Alaska Native tribes and to support tribal victim services and village law enforcement, Attorney General William P. Barr said Thursday.

Barr announced the funding in a video broadcast at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Fairbanks, the largest annual gathering of Alaska Natives in the state. A Daily News and ProPublica investigation, published in May, found that one in three Alaska communities have no local law enforcement. Barr visited Alaska villages in May and declared a federal emergency and “public safety crisis in rural Alaska” the following month in a visit to Alaska that included a trip on the Kuskokwim River.

Village leaders in some communities with no law enforcement say the lack of available officer housing, holding cells and other infrastructure has prevented hires.

According to the Department of Justice, the $42 million will be made available through the existing Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation program, and through a “tribal victim services set-aside program.”

The money comes in addition to $10.5 million previously announced in support of Alaska law enforcement and public safety infrastructure. Additional details were not immediately available.

Barr, wearing a blue kuspuk he was given on his Alaska trip, spoke via a video conference call. “One of the reasons I like it is it has a slimming fit,” he joked of the traditional garment. Sen. Dan Sullivan and Sen. Lisa Murkowski joined in the call from Washington, D.C.

In blue, U.S. Attorney General William Barr walks the Napaskiak boardwalk with tribal administrator Sharon Williams, right, and others on Friday, May 31, 2019. Barr visited Bethel and Napaskiak to learn about law enforcement and public safety challenges in the region. (Marc Lester / ADN)

The Daily News and ProPublica found that more than 70 communities — 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 in the United States.

In some unprotected villages, local city governments have resorted to hiring felons or even sex offenders as police. Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced earlier Thursday that one such community, the village of Stebbins, where all local officers had been convicted of domestic violence, will receive an Alaska State Trooper.

According to the Department of Justice, the additional federal grants were awarded earlier this month and announced publicly for the first time Thursday. Among the funding, Emmonak Women’s Shelter will receive $500,000, the Violence Against Women Tribal Governments Program will receive $900,000 and the Native Village of Atmautluak will receive $694,435.

Sullivan told the crowd that every Alaska community that wants local law enforcement should have it. “Every American expects that, and yet we don’t have anything close,” he said.

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