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KNBA News - Rural, urban residents alike will see decrease in law enforcement services from troopers

Courtesy Alaska State Troopers

Thirty State Trooper positions eliminated, more cuts coming

By JoaqlinEstus, KNBA

Rural residents already complain that state troopers are slow to respond to serious crimes and dangerous situations. But as of July first, 30 state trooper positions have been eliminated, and with more lay-offs coming, it's going to get worse--in both urban and rural Alaska.

Public safety director Colonel James Cockrell says the department had to find $8.5 million to cut. It's mothballing two search-and-rescue helicopters, losing some support positions, and tightening its belt in other ways. Cockrell says it's been hard to cut trooper positions. It's hard to find good recruits, and troopers fulfill the agency's mission to fight crime, enforce the law, and protect life and property. Plus, he says the force has always been spread thin.

“Statewide, the population that we serve, we certainly don't meet the national standards  of providing the number of police officers to the population,” said Cockrell. “And we really never have because we're so spread out and the difficulties of getting into some of the areas that we deal with.”

Of the dozen communities losing troopers, eight are losing one or two each. Fairbanks is losing six, and Soldotna five. Wasilla is losing the most -- nine state trooper positions. Cockrell says that's going to make a bad situation worse.

“When you look at specifically the Mat-Su valley, our troopers are, some of them are 30, 40 cases behind on their case load right now,” said Cockrell. “We're just not keeping up with the volume of activity that we have out there and that's pretty much statewide.

Cockrell says another area that will feel the change is the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, which he says is experiencing an epidemic of sexual assault and domestic violence crime. And he noted the loss of a drug investigations trooper in the Bristol Bay region. But he says urban residents will also see a change.

“We'll have to prioritize our services and certainly when we have less troopers, 

  property crime goes even further down on the list,” said Cockrell.

"We’ll get to where we're just essentially dealing with people crimes, assaults, burglaries in process, robberies and domestic violence and sexual assaults," he continued. "So certainly our responses to some property crimes will probably be non-existent.”

Cockrell says he saw the cuts coming so kept several positions vacant. As a result he says only one permanent employee was actually laid off, along with six non-permanent positions -- four troopers who handled cold case murder investigations, and two who did background checks. Now, he says, the department has to cut another $2.6 million.