Small Alaskan Villages Hire Cops Who Shouldn't Be Cops

Because they have no choice and the state can't provide oversight, says new investigation
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 24, 2019 9:35 AM CDT
In This Village, Every Cop Has a Criminal Record
Children play on the main road of Stebbins, a Bering Strait village that's home to 646 people in Alaska. The city is among 14 in Alaska that has employed police officers whose criminal records should have prevented them from being hired under state law, the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica reported...   (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News via AP)

Earlier this year, ProPublica and the Anchorage Daily News reported that one-third of Alaskan communities have no police officer of any kind. That's bad. A follow-up report by the same news outlets, however, might be worse. The investigation found that communities that do have officers are often so desperate that they hire people with criminal records who should be ineligible under state law. Take the village of Stebbins, for instance, with a population of 646. The village had seven police officers working as of July 1, and all seven have pleaded guilty to domestic violence charges in the last 10 years. That includes the chief, who was hired one year after drinking illegal homebrew liquor, throwing a teen relative to the ground, and threatening to kill her. The bigger problem is that the situation in Stebbins, where cops make $14 an hour, is not that unusual.

"It's outrageous that we have a situation where we have ... such a lack of public safety that communities are resorting to hiring people who have the propensity for violence," says Melanie Bahnke, a board member for the Alaska Federation of Natives. "And placing them in a position where they have control over people and possibly could victimize the victims further." The investigation turned up dozens of officers who shouldn't be eligible to work as a cop, but do so anyway because cash-strapped state agencies are unable to provide oversight. A quote from a city employee in Shaktoolik sums things up. Asked to explain the hire of an officer who has pleaded guilty five times to assault in the last 10 years, the employee responded, "He was our only applicant so we had no other choice." Read the full story, which details the different policing authorities in the state. (More Alaska stories.)

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