OPINION: Addressing Alaska’s high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous persons

Alaska is home to more American Indians or Alaska Natives per capita than any other state in the nation. Unfortunately, our Indigenous people are disproportionately murdered or go missing across the state, never to be heard from again. Murder is the third leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native women. While we believe the numbers are higher, currently there are 250 Alaska Native males and 51 Alaska Native females now listed as missing on the Alaska Missing Persons Clearinghouse public list of missing persons. These numbers are simply unacceptable, and the Alaska Department of Public Safety, including the Alaska State Troopers, are working tirelessly to address Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) across our state, in both urban and rural Alaska.

With Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s support, the Alaska Department of Public Safety is developing new approaches to these investigations by adding specialized law enforcement resources to rural Alaska. We are adding six full-time major crimes investigators to Bethel, Dillingham, Kotzebue and Nome. The Alaska State Troopers have never assigned major crime investigators to live and work in our rural Alaska hub communities. These investigators, dedicated to rural Alaska, will allow for a faster response to violent crime scenes and allow patrol troopers to respond to more calls for service instead of spending time securing crime scenes while an investigator responds from urban Alaska. In the governor’s budget request to the Legislature, we have also included funding for 10 additional Village Public Safety Officers for remote communities, a crime scene technician for the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, and two Tribal Liaisons to improve the department’s communications and relationships with tribal governments and entities.

In addition to these significant investments, we are adding a dedicated MMIP investigator to the Alaska Bureau of Investigation. Retired Alaska State Trooper Anne Sears, the first Alaska Native female Alaska State Trooper, has returned to the department to take on this critical role. Investigator Sears will review cold case murders and missing persons cases involving Indigenous persons within the Alaska State Troopers’ area of responsibility. Investigator Sears will also work with tribal entities across Alaska to identify any gaps in the Alaska State Trooper’s response to new murders or missing persons investigations. I am excited to welcome Investigator Sears back to the Department of Public Safety and know that she will do an excellent job in this new role.

While there is much more work to do, know that your Alaska Department of Public Safety is dedicated to doing our part to improve the outcomes of missing and murdered Indigenous persons investigations across Alaska. Alaska’s first people deserve nothing less.

James Cockrell is the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety. He is a 30-year veteran of the Alaska State Troopers.

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James Cockrell

James Cockrell is the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety. He is a 30-year veteran of the Alaska State Troopers.