A vast majority of Alaska State Troopers are white, making the primary statewide law enforcement agency substantially less diverse than Alaska’s population.
Alaska Public Media reported Monday that about 87% of the state's 355 troopers are white, compared to 65% of Alaska's population.
The figures released by Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy's administration in response to a public records request showed Alaska Natives and Native Americans have the next largest representation among troopers at 5%, while those groups represent about 20% of the overall population.
Representation among the Alaska State Troopers has not changed significantly in recent years, although agency spokeswoman Megan Peters said in an email that "our efforts have been significant."
The Department of Public Safety, which oversees the troopers, declined to make leaders available for questions. But Peters acknowledged increased diversity could make the law enforcement agency more effective.
The agency is confident its hiring process is fair, but there is a deficit in the amount of people of color applying for positions, Peters said.
One of the biggest barriers is the negative experience many residents have during interactions with troopers, which Peters said generally occur when people are having a "really bad day."
"In order to create a relationship with a potential trooper that results in a job application, we must have significant contact with the applicant in a positive way, and that isn't happening often enough," Peters said.
Positive interactions with troopers most often occur during their off-duty hours, while funding for programs to support those efforts is difficult to obtain, she said.
The agency plans to devote extra time to applicants from diverse groups while continuing to recruit within the nation's military branches and target those groups through advertising, Peters said.
The recruitment efforts should continue, but the agency needs to make more systemic change so people from diverse backgrounds want to work there, said Charlene Apok, director of gender, justice and healing at Native Movement, a Native advocacy group.
"They need to do their part with the active recruiting and hiring. But it needs to be paired with trainings across the institution, so that it doesn't only perpetuate violence," Apok said.
Agency statements about diversification efforts appear to be defensive and an effort to “perpetuate the way that they’re doing their work right now,” Apok said.