U.S. Attorney General William Barr declared a law enforcement emergency in Alaska after vising rural communities that are facing some of the highest rates of violence without any kind of law enforcement. He is also pledging millions of dollars in emergency funds. On "Talk of Alaska," former state Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan and tribal rights attorney Lloyd Miller discussed Barr’s visit and its impact on the future of public safety in Alaska.
Lloyd Miller, who has worked in tribal law in Alaska for decades, praised Attorney General William Barr’s visit as “unprecedented.”
"It wasn’t just a photo-op or a meeting with a national or statewide leaders in Anchorage, he went out to the villages," Miller said.
But Miller says that there is still a long road ahead for Alaska to carry out Barr’s vision. Barr visited Anchorage, Bethel, Galena, and Napaskiak as part of his four-day tour in May to see the lack of law enforcement in rural Alaska firsthand. During his visit, Barr said that “everything is on the table” when it comes to solutions. That includes tailoring federal grants to match Alaska Native tribal needs. Miller says that’s a significant shift in the federal government’s attitude toward Indigenous communities.
"He has to execute that shift, and to excecute that shift he and his people need to sit down with tribal leaders and look at these grants they are supporting in Alaska, " Miller said.
Former Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan says that the solution must be more than just giving out money.
"I am familiar where one particular community get awarded several million dollars, but couldn’t activate it. I agree with Lloyd; let’s make the system suitable and not live up to some kind of bureaucracy that we get embroiled with in our Western world," Monegan said.
Tribal jurisdiction is another issue, but an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act could help change that. U.S. Rep. Don Young proposed a pilot project that would allow five villages limited jurisdiction to prosecute crimes like domestic violence and sexual assault regardless of whether the perpetrator is Native or not.
Monegan commended the proposal.
"The idea is a good one, and I think we should proceed in a way that’s closely monitored," Monegan said.
Miller and Monegan had harsh words about Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s line item veto of funds for the Village Public Safety Officer program.
"It’s absolutely shameful. Alaska leaders talk all the time, many of them, in disparaging ways about the federal government. 'Get the federal government out of our affairs; we are self-sufficient; the government is meddling in our business,' and then shows it’s utterly incapable of governing itself," Miller said.
"I think a lot of things focused on vetos, kind of the way I look at it, we’re living for today. We’re not concerned for tomorrow," Monegan said.
Both men agree that Alaska Native tribes should solve the issues around law enforcement, and the state and federal governments should support them.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department has required its agencies to submit plans to tackle the public safety crisis by the end of this month.