Commentary

Historic investment in Alaska public safety will save lives

August 2, 2022 5:00 am
Jim Cockrell, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety, with Gov. Mike Dunleavy, speaks in Wasilla at a May 3, 2022 press conference on opioids. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Jim Cockrell, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety, with Gov. Mike Dunleavy, speaks in Wasilla at a May 3, 2022, press conference on opioids. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Since 2020, many states, cities and counties across the Lower 48 drastically cut law enforcement funding in their local jurisdictions – however in Alaska, Gov. Dunleavy and the Legislature have done the exact opposite and provided the Alaska Department of Public Safety with historic funding to combat crime and protect victims. In total, DPS saw an additional $36 million investment in our vital mission of ensuring public safety across both urban and rural Alaska. This is the single largest financial investment made during my entire 30-year career with DPS, and a major departure from the massive cuts forced upon us by the previous administration. 

This year we will have 10 new Trooper positions joining our ranks serving in the Mat-Su Valley, Fairbanks, Galena, Tok, Yakutat and St. Mary’s. With the ultimate goal of employing 415 Alaska State Troopers and 105 Alaska Wildlife Troopers over the next several years, we are well on our way to meeting this goal. Our recruitment program is meeting the challenge of filling our vacancies and this year alone we are on track to graduate 50 new Trooper recruits from the Alaska Law Enforcement Training Academy in Sitka, one of our best hiring cycles in decades. 

In addition to the uniformed staff, this budget also brings an additional 69 professional employees to the department. These behind-the-scenes staff members are the heartbeat of the department and allow Troopers to remain in the field responding to calls instead of handling evidence, maintaining IT systems, documenting crime scenes and ensuring that administrative tasks are completed on time. One of the new programs that this budget establishes is a Victim Witness Coordination Office to liaison with victims of serious crimes during the investigative process to ensure that they are kept informed during the entire investigation and engaged in the investigative process. 

Specifically for rural Alaska, we are adding a deputy fire marshal, crime scene technician and other support staff for our Bethel Alaska State Trooper post. We have also received enough funding to provide for ten new village public safety officers, or VPSOs, in rural Alaska. This is in addition to the six new major crimes investigators that we established late last year to investigate and respond to major felony investigations across Western Alaska. We are also working to hire two Tribal liaisons for the department to improve our relationships with Alaska’s Tribes.

This budget also provides nearly $35 million for capital projects that will have statewide impact. After years of funding setbacks, DPS is working to refresh our aircraft fleet, purchase more reliable handheld radios, replace a medium-class vessel, build infrastructure for VPSOs in rural Alaska and other meaningful projects. We also received funding to deploy body worn cameras for all Troopers, VPSOs and Court Services Officers serving across the state, a project that we began exploring several years ago.

I would like to thank Gov. Dunleavy and the Legislature for providing DPS with the necessary resources to save lives across our great state.

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James Cockrell
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. He lives in Soldotna.

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