Eight communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta got good news last week: more money for more law enforcement positions, thanks to a U.S. Department of Justice program.
For Akiachak Tribal Police Chief Mark Mata, the grant means an extra set of hands and training. Akiachak is one of several Alaska Native tribes that received a portion of $5 million from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, to hire village and tribal police officers.
A recent media report said that one in three rural Alaska villages lacked any kind of law enforcement. Earlier this year, U.S. Attorney General William Barr visited the Y-K Delta to see the public safety crisis firsthand.
The Department of Justice released $10 million in emergency funds in June, and promised to expand existing programs for Alaska Native tribes. The program that funds additional public safety officers in villages started in 2010. Tribes apply for funding, and the money lasts three years.
Mata says that Akiachak’s share this year is bigger than the last time it applied.
"Because couple years back, there are only two officers covered in the grant," Mata said.
This time, the village can pay for three full-time positions. Currently the tribe pays the salaries of four tribal police officers: two full-time, two part-time. With this latest funding Akiachak will also have enough to pay for Mata, along with a deputy chief and an additional tribal police officer. The money will also pay for more training. TPOs are not required to get any training, and few actually do. A man died in Akiachak's jail earlier this year; Mata says that more training could have prevented it.
"That’s why this grant is really helpful for us, because I can send them to training and get them certified," Mata said.
The other Y-K Delta villages getting a piece of the $5 million in federal funds are: Napaskiak, Kipnuk, Quinhagak, Mekoryuk, Scammon Bay, and Tununak.