I don't want to get into a big political fight over the subject of this column, but I cannot allow a fellow Alaska Native to have his reputation tarnished and used as a political football. I am speaking about the former commissioner of public safety, Walt Monegan.
Many within the Native community were surprised and disappointed when he was fired in July. We found it hard to understand how his termination could have been for a "failure to make progress on key goals, including trooper vacancies and fighting alcohol abuse in rural Alaska."
Walt Monegan has long been involved in seeking solutions to the problems of crime and alcohol abuse in rural Alaska. He serves on the Alaska Rural Justice and Law Enforcement Commission, which is mandated to review federal, state, local and tribal jurisdictions on civil and criminal matters in the bush. It advises Congress and the state on how to meet rural law enforcement needs, how to regulate alcoholic beverages, and how to tackle problems of domestic violence and child abuse.
As a member of the Board of the Alaska Native Justice Center, Monegan has traveled extensively in rural Alaska, working with the regional nonprofits that run the Village Public Safety Officer Program. In his first year as commissioner, he saved several million federal dollars that were about to be lost, due to his predecessor's adamant refusal to work with the VPSO contractors and the funding agency.
Even more incredible is the criticism of Monegan's efforts to obtain federal funds for domestic violence and rape initiatives. FBI data have shown that Alaska leads the nation in per capita forcible rapes, at two-and-a-half times the national average. And if the mother is not safe, neither are the children, since child abuse is 15 times more likely to occur in households that experience adult violence.
Alaska's record of sexual assault on minors is one of the worst in the United States. Funding for such problems should be a priority for any state government.
No one has done more to address the law enforcement needs of rural Alaska than Walt Monegan. Upon becoming commissioner, he had to restore morale in a department depressed by the autocratic style of the previous administration, when many VPSOs were eliminated and other steps were taken that harmed Bush villages. Lack of funding for law enforcement, low salaries for troopers and VPSOs, and frequent reassignments in the Bush have hampered recruitment. The average trooper compensation in FY 2006 was $62,843, compared with $73,918 for Anchorage police officers.
No one can question the need for increased rural law enforcement. The alcohol-related mortality rate among Natives is three-and-a-half times that of non-Natives; and the Native Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder rate is three times that of non-Natives. Most crimes in the Bush are committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
I am writing this column to clarify on the public record that the Alaska Native community appreciates former Commissioner Monegan's efforts to improve law enforcement in rural Alaska and to address the terrible issue of alcohol and drugs throughout the state.
As to the real motives behind this termination, I can only speculate, like everyone else. But I cannot sit by and say nothing while partisan politics blacken the remarkable record of Walt Monegan -- an honorable man with a long and distinguished career in law enforcement. Thank you, Walt, for all you have done for every Alaskan.
Julie Kitka is president of the Alaska Federation of Natives.
By JULIE KITKA