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Breaking decades-old tradition, King Salmon woman without police background leads standards council

Rebecca Hamon is the first person in decades without a law enforcement background to chair the Alaska Police Standards Council.

Hamon is a village and legal advocate in King Salmon for SAFE Bristol Bay, a shelter, prevention and advocacy agency for domestic violence and sexual assault victims.

The council sets and enforces standards for employment, training, certification and retention of law enforcement officials across the state. It also investigates potential misconduct by law enforcement that could lead to decertification.

Hamon replaces retired Anchorage Police Chief Justin Doll as the council’s chair. Doll appointed her to serve as vice chair of the council before his retirement. 

“Well, it's a little bit shocking to me, it gives me sort of this out of body feeling," she said. "Like, 'What? It's me that chairs this thing?' But on the other hand, I do feel confident about the role, because I've served on this board so long, and I understand a lot of our goals, and just the overall direction that the board is trying to go.”

The police standards council was established by the state legislature in 1972. Initially, it only set the standards for police officers. By 1988, House Bill 367 expanded the council’s jurisdiction to include corrections, probation and parole officers.

The council consists of 13 people who are appointed by the governor. Nine of those seats go to people with backgrounds in law enforcement. The other four members represent the public, and two of them are from smaller communities of 2,500 people or less.

Before she joined the council, Hamon said she had worked on several cases in the Naknek area with former state legislator Chuck Kopp, who was a Bristol Bay police officer at that time.

“That was right during the time of Governor [Sean] Parnell and he was putting together the Choose Respect campaign," Hamon said. "Apparently in conversation with Chuck Kopp, he had told him he wanted a person who did not have a police background and worked with victims specifically.”

According to Hamon, Kopp floated the idea of her joining as a member of the public. She applied and was appointed by former Governor Sean Parnell in 2011.

“Often those public seats were filled by retired police officers or people that worked in the field of police over their careers," she said. "There’s a few of us now that are public members not in police work. We have a fresh outlook, we are not part of that hierarchy and we can look at in a kind of more unbiased view.”

Hamon’s background has motivated much of her work with the council over the years. She’s advocated for strict accountability in cases where an officer has abused their power to have unethical contact with victims and victims’ families.

“Particularly, issues that women face in our communities," she said. "So I’ve come down with a high level of no tolerance toward cases where someone in uniform has used their influence or access to a victim’s information or anything about her or his situation to do anything unethical. Those victims are the people that I feel like it’s my role to stand up for them.”

Hamon has cracked down on these cases as a member of the council. But she’s also advocated for second chances when officers have made minor mistakes that violate the council’s regulations. Hamon said some of those mistakes could be due to a lack of mental health resources for law enforcement. She said the state lacks enough of those resources.

“Because it is such a stressful and complex job, it causes a lot of pressure on the person and some of these errors and poor judgment could be a result of mental health issues," she said. "And those are the types of things I’d like to look at as another side of the equation.”

Hamon has also worked with the council to improve training resources for law enforcement. Specifically, she’s advocated for support in smaller, rural communities. She said bigger departments have more capacity to train and retain officers.

“Training for our officers can be such a giant chunk of our budget in small communities," she said. "Whereas some of these large communities can train multiple officers out of a much bigger budget. So I have been arguing for resources for smaller communities so that our officers could receive the same quality of training as officers in our bigger departments.”

As Hamon steps into a leadership role with the council, Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety Leon Morgan will serve as vice chair. Morgan said Hammon’s longevity on the board and her background speaks to her credibility.

“She was unanimously selected to be the chair," Morgan said. "That speaks for itself. I think it’s a well-deserved appointment. At least from my perspective, it’s very important to have that community voice on the board and to help drive decisions and directions for law enforcement as a whole, because we serve our own communities.”

Hamon and Morgan were elected to their new roles at a council meeting earlier this month. The Alaska Police Standards Council meets at least twice a year, depending on its caseload. Those meetings areopen to the public

The council’s next meeting is set for May 5, 2022. Minutes and agendas can be found at the council’s website.