AFN applauds Public Safety Emergency Declaration in Rural Alaska

by AFN Staff

The Alaska Federation of Natives applauds the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)’s unprecedented announcement today in declaring a public safety emergency in rural Alaska under the Emergency Federal Law Enforcement Assistance Program, which authorizes more than $20 million in immediate and short-term funding to address the public safety crisis in rural Alaska, and allocates additional resources for near and long-term support.

“We appreciate that U.S. Attorney General William Barr clearly understands the urgency of the public safety situation in rural Alaska,” said AFN President Julie Kitka.

With the allocation of immediate federal aid to support law enforcement in Alaska villages, and additional resources to support child advocacy centers and crime reduction measures, DOJ has demonstrated its commitment to work with Alaskans to strengthen federal-state-tribal partnerships, and design and implement new models of community policing and building rural public safety capacity.

“AFN thanks U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan for hosting Attorney General Barr’s visit to the state last month,” Kitka said. “We also appreciate Alaska Native leaders for briefing Attorney General Barr and providing him a first-hand look at the severity of the public safety situation in Alaska villages.”

Attorney General Barr’s four-day trip began with a roundtable in Anchorage on May 29, and continued with visits to Galena, Bethel and Napaskiak on May 31. The Attorney General said then that he appreciated the ‘sense of urgency’ felt by rural residents, particularly Alaska Native women and children who suffer high rates of physical and sexual abuse.

Alaska has the highest per capita crime rate in the country and unique challenges. A recent study found that about 70 of Alaska’s more than 200 rural Native villages are ‘unprotected.’ These villages have public schools and post offices, but no law enforcement presence, and nearly a total lack of infrastructure to support public safety personnel. Many unprotected villages are accessible only by air or water (a few by all-terrain vehicles), meaning that when an emergency occurs rural residents are often on their own for hours or days.

AFN recognizes the dedication and valor of Village Public Safety Officers, Tribal police, other local law enforcement officers, and Alaska State Troopers. The people of Alaska must stand behind them, respect their selfless devotion to duty, and ensure they are supported with all the resources they need.