Gov. Walker announces public safety plan

Gov. Bill Walker speaks about his public safety plan in the Capitol on Monday. Listening to him are: Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, Alaska State Troopers Director Col. Hans Brinke, Alaska Wildlife Troopers Director Col. Steve Hall, and Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

Gov. Bill Walker and four of his cabinet members announced a series of steps today to reduce crime. They include more spending on public safety and improved access to mental health and substance abuse treatment.

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Walker said reducing crime will require more state government spending in some areas.

“Rather than focusing on fixing the blame, we need to be focused on fixing the problem,” Walker said. “One thing we have found out over the past several years: We cannot cut our way into a safer Alaska.”

Walker put Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth in charge of developing a plan to reduce crime. She said it will take enhanced collaboration across different departments, along with closer work with tribal and municipal law enforcement.

“We can each be doing our own thing, but what this is all about is working together better, in doing more with what we have,” Lindemuth said.

Lindemuth also said she will seek state funding for five more prosecutors, including one focused specifically on drugs statewide.

Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan said the department is working to improve recruitment to fill 43 open state trooper positions and 34 vacant village public safety officer jobs.

Monegan said one barrier to attracting applicants is the annual cycle of layoff notices sent to public workers during disagreements among lawmakers over the state budget.

“We don’t want to have any pink slips. And the state right now doesn’t attract a lot of good people as it should,” Monegan said. “But we are working on a huge plan.”

The administration also is hoping to fund more treatment of opioid addiction as a way of reducing thefts caused by drug use.

The Department of Health and Social Services is aiming to add space at drug treatment facilities and to increase treatment using medication.

Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson said the state’s Medicaid expansion is central to the treatment efforts. She said the largely federally funded expansion is helping people who are addicted to drugs when they leave jail.

“When someone is leaving a correctional facility, if they have the opportunity to be able to go into treatment or better after-care, to be able to support the services that they received in a correctional facility, we know we’re going to have better outcomes as a state,” Davidson said.

Senate President Pete Kelly said he expects the Senate to support efforts to improve public safety, but was skeptical of the governor’s proposal to introduce a payroll tax.

“Addressing public safety is obviously very important and he’s going to find a lot of support from the Senate to do that,” Kelly said. “Some of the proposals he’ll make I’m sure we’ll jump on because they’re good ideas. I don’t like the idea of politicizing public safety for what appears in my book to be a philosophical desire by the administration and others to impose a tax on Alaskans.”

Walker administration officials have said a payroll tax would help bring the state budget into balance.