Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2021 includes funding for 15 additional Alaska State Trooper (AST) positions including one in Nome, one in Unalakleet, and potential new posts in St. Michael, Ambler and Anchor Point on the Kenai Peninsula.
Troopers are the first responders in some of those communities, like St. Michael, although they are not currently based there. St. Michael’s only option for local law enforcement is the Village Public Safety Officer (VPSO) program, but their VPSO position is currently vacant.
In the fiscal year 2020 budget, Dunleavy cut $3 million and 8 positions from the VPSO program, citing an inability to fill authorized vacancies. His proposed budget for the next fiscal year does not include additional funding for the VPSO program.
After the current year’s budget, which did not include any funding for new trooper positions — passed in June — Colonel Barry Wilson of AST says the fiscal year 2021 proposal is a good start.
“There’s a lot of need for additional positions but we know that we can only fill a certain amount over the year because we have retention, and recruitment,” Wilson.
In the proposal, the Dunleavy administration acknowledges that many rural Alaska areas depend on troopers for law enforcement and that current trooper staffing levels create delays in responding to violent crimes, including sexual assault and murder. The administration now believes that AST’s recent recruiting success requires budgeting additional positions. Wilson agrees.
“We had up to 42 vacancies recently. That’s a lot of vacancies for us to be carrying and its very hard on people to work in that environment. We’re starting to see the light at the end of that tunnel,” Wilson said. “We’re starting to see a future that’s much brighter than what we’ve seen in the last five years. If you’d given me positions last year, I couldn’t have filled them. This year? I think we can fill them by the end of FY 21.”
With recruitment and training, Wilson says it takes about two years to make a new state trooper. He also stresses that this is an early proposal and the final number of new posts and where, remain up to the legislature.
While most of the governor’s proposed budget remains relatively flat compared to the last budget, under the FY2021 proposal the Department of Public Safety is seeing a proposed 7.5% increase in funding. Nearly $7 million ($6,947,000) will go towards hiring 31 DPS positions, which includes the 15 troopers.
The proposed state trooper positions are two in Ambler, two for Anchor Point, one in Bethel, one in Dillingham, one in Emmonak, one in Glennallen, two in Kotzebue, one in Nome, one in St. Mary’s, two in St. Michaels, and one in Unalakleet.