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article imageJustice Dept. declares public-safety emergency in rural Alaska

By Karen Graham     Jun 29, 2019 in Politics
Anchorage - U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Friday declared a public-safety emergency in rural Alaska and pledged $10.5 million in federal funds to combat some of the nation’s worst rates of sexual assault, child abuse, and other violent crimes.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr visited western Alaska in late May this year on a multiday trip to hear concerns from Alaska Natives and rural residents about a lack of police in rural communities and high rates of sexual assault, child abuse, and family violence. More than half of the women in Alaska are subject to domestic violence or sexual assault.
Barr called the situation an “emergency” and vowed to do everything he could to help, reports the Anchorage Daily News.
“In May, when I visited Alaska, I witnessed firsthand the complex, unique, and dire law enforcement challenges the state of Alaska and its remote Alaska Native communities are facing,” Barr said in a statement from the Department of Justice. “With this emergency declaration, I am directing resources where they are needed most and needed immediately, to support the local law enforcement response in Alaska Native communities, whose people are dealing with extremely high rates of violence.”
The state’s largest Native organization praised the decision.
Nearly one-third of Alaska Native villages are without a police force. Many of these rural villages are usually without outside road access and are generally isolated and unable to get any local or state responses in a timely manner. This is because Alaska tribes do not have the legal authority to establish police forces - based on the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that restricted tribal powers.
A westward view of downtown Naknek in the spring of 2007. In 2010  the population stood at 544 peopl...
A westward view of downtown Naknek in the spring of 2007. In 2010, the population stood at 544 people.
Todd Arlo
This situation has created a unique "jurisdictional landscape" because in many cases, investigators can only access some villages by boat or plane - creating delays in investigating alleged crimes This factored into Barr's decision, according to Reuters.
Barr has directed federal agencies within the Justice Department to submit plans within 30 days on how they will provide more support for federal, state and tribal public safety efforts in rural Alaska. The goals must include providing better services to crime victims, stamping out illegal drugs, improving detention facilities and getting more police and legal resources to rural Alaska.
Besides having the highest per capita crime rate in the country, Alaska is not on a sound fiscal footing. The state is dependent on oil revenues that are dwindling and has cut back services over the years. Some of the first things cut in the state's budget have been funding for village public safety officer programs.
On Friday, after Barr's announcement, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced deep cuts he was making by veto to the fiscal 2020 budget passed by the state legislature. The cuts included $3 million for the village public safety officer programs.
More about Doj, rural alaska, attorney general William Barr, Alaska Native villages, violent crimes
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