Bethel tries to bolster screening process for police officers

In a little over a year, the Bethel Police Department has had two high-profile cases of police misconduct–one involving police brutality and the other an attempted rape.

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The department is still working to improve its hiring practices, and its unclear if either of these men still have their police certification.

In early November, former Bethel police officer Aaron Fedolfi was caught in Anchorage after evading arrest for charges of attempted sexual assault and police misconduct while serving with the BPD.

A few months prior, Fedolfi picked up an intoxicated woman, took her near the town’s dog pound and attempted to rape her, according to charging documents.

After an investigation, Fedolfi was placed on administrative leave and soon after quit. He’s now in jail in Anchorage.

Fedolfi was hired in 2013. This was before the Bethel Police Department required psychological and polygraph evaluations as a mandatory part of its hiring practices.

Polygraph exams aren’t required under state police regulations, but state statue requires psych exams. They can’t be substituted.

But until a little over a year ago, prospective hires could have their psych and polygraph exams waived, if they’d taken them before or in another state.

BPD Police Chief Andre Achee explains.

“In other words,” Achee said, “we’ve had employees that we’ve hired that may have had a psych exam at another agency–could be five or 10 years ago– or a polygraph five or 10 years ago.”

Fedolfi’s wasn’t the only recent high-profile case of police misconduct in Bethel.

Last July, a grainy surveillance video from the local grocery store in Bethel showed a police officer repeatedly picking up a Yup’ik man and slamming his body to the ground. In the footage, the officer throws him across the dirt parking lot 11 times. He continues this for more than two minutes.

The officer in the video is Andrew Reid, and in early March, BPD fired him.

But 200 days after Reid was fired, it’s unclear whether he still has his police certification—despite an ongoing FBI investigation. There’s no record of the Alaska Police Standards Council, or APSC, revoking it.

When an officer is fired or facing criminal chargers, their certification isn’t automatically revoked. Criminal charges are processed separately.

But after a police officer leaves a department—on their own accord or not—the department has 30 days to send a report to the APSC detailing why the officer left. The council can revoke an officer’s certification. But the actions aren’t public and only become available if a certification is stripped or if an officer contests the revocation.

As of late November, the office that holds these public records did not have either Fedolfi or Reid’s name in their files.

It’s an area that APSC Administrative Investigator Sarah Hieb says isn’t black or white.

“It would be a grey area,” Hieb said. “My understanding records are confidential. We’re not allowed to talk about what our records are. The only people allowed to look are the actual officers, and they’re only allowed to look at things related to their trainings and forms they’ve personally filled out and have been sent to us.”

She says there are three things the council looks for when considering revocation: dishonesty, misconduct and lack of good moral character.

“We do take our jobs very seriously, to make sure we don’t have police officers who aren’t doing things, or should not be working as a police officer,” she said.

APSC also sets general hiring requirements and policies that state police departments must follow. But there is a lot the council recommends but doesn’t require–like a department checking to see if an officer is under investigation before hiring them or police departments listing their current officers on their website. BPD currently does both of these.

In Alaska, there isn’t a public or private database of police officers currently working in the state.

When it comes to a lot of police information–who’s working in a department and why an officer leaves–APSC only knows what the departments report.

“A police department is required to send us information whenever a police offer no longer works for them—either through retirement or resigning,” Hieb said. “Our regulations say a police department will give us that information.”

Since last December, the council has met twice and revoked the certifications of eight police officers. None of the records belonged to Reid.

After an officer’s license is revoked, the officer can reapply after one year.

Bethel Police Chief Andre Achee has been with the department for nearly three decades and considers it a second family. He says he’s focused on building trust with the community.

Achee says the department has hired a more diverse and representative police force compared to previous years.

“Maintaining community relationships is not something you can just plan,” Achee said, “it’s a continuing endeavor everyday. It’s not going to be one or two years and we forget about it. The officers here, as well as myself, need to continue this effort everyday.”