State halts work on expanded arrest authority for Chickaloon tribal officers

PALMER — Alaska’s top public safety official said Thursday that the state is halting plans to grant special law enforcement powers to Chickaloon tribal police officers.

Officials from the Alaska Department of Public Safety in early April told a town hall meeting in Sutton that they were finalizing an agreement with Chickaloon Native Village tribal police that provided new special police commissions. Under the agreement, Chickaloon tribal officers could arrest members of the general public suspected of breaking specific laws in the Sutton area.

The agreement, which covered a 68-square-mile area off the Glenn Highway northwest of Sutton as well as several village properties in Sutton, was supposed to be finalized by mid-June.

But this week, the state has halted work on the commissions after receiving “hundreds of comments” from across the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, according to a statement Thursday from Public Safety Commissioner James Cockrell.

“I have decided to not move forward with issuing special commissions to the Chickaloon Tribal Police Department,” the statement says. “My team and I received a significant amount of feedback from community members which demonstrated continued community consultation and relationship building is needed before special commissions can be considered.”

The state received “several comments concerning public trust” between Sutton residents and the Chickaloon Tribal Police Department, public safety spokesman Austin McDaniel said in an email. “There is also confusion about the different law enforcement authority that a tribe in Alaska can have through either the federal government or state government.”

Asked about the hundreds of comments Cockrell referenced, McDaniel said an official count wasn’t available but “between emails, comments at meetings, and phone calls it was over 100.”


Cockrell’s statement also said policing in any community would be “nearly impossible” without public trust and his agency “will continue to work with tribes across the state to improve public safety outcomes for Alaska’s first people.”

This decision does not affect any of the “inherent criminal justice authority” held by tribal governments or currently delegated to tribal governments by the federal government, according to public safety officials.

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Donna Anthony, justice director for the Chickaloon Tribal Police Department, called the state’s decision disappointing in a statement late Thursday.

The Chickaloon Village Traditional Council, a federally recognized tribal government, “reiterates its unwavering dedication to community public safety,” the statement says, adding that police plan to continue enforcing tribal laws and the federal Violence Against Women Act.

Anthony’s statement includes statistics showing the disproportionate impact of crimes including domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking on Alaska Native and American Indian people. It also notes the ongoing trooper shortage in Alaska and in Mat-Su.

“These statistics demonstrate that current resources are inadequate to ensure safety in our communities,” the statement says. Chickaloon’s tribal police department “pledges to maintain the collaborative efforts with the Alaska State Troopers, local police departments, and the public to strive for public safety for all in our communities.”

As proposed, the state agreement would have granted individual Chickaloon tribal officers special state policing authority to arrest anyone — including non-tribal members — witnessed committing a misdemeanor crime, such as property theft or domestic violence. They would also be able to enforce laws against sex trafficking and illegal drugs, officials said, but not conduct traffic stops or vehicle pursuits.

The Chickaloon traditional council requested the agreement last year to allow policing of crimes committed by non-Natives against Alaska Native people in Chickaloon, council officials have said. State officials backed the concept to compensate for empty trooper positions in the area.

During the town hall meeting last month, some community members expressed concern about how the state planned to provide oversight and the potential for tribal policing power to expand beyond the limited parameters covered by the proposed state agreement.

McDaniel said there is no set time period for the commissioner’s decision to be reviewed.

Zaz Hollander

Zaz Hollander is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su and is currently an ADN local news editor and reporter. She covers breaking news, the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at