ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) ? A lawsuit in state Superior Court in Anchorage, originally filed in 1999, claims unequal levels of law enforcement in Alaska. Lawyers for plaintiffs say the lesser standard of police protection found in rural, primarily Native, communities amounts to racially separate, unequal treatment.
Over the past two years, most plaintiffs have been dismissed, as have some of the claims. The remaining plaintiffs ? the villages of Akiachak and Tuluksak and several individuals ? want Judge Sharon Gleason to conclude that unequal law enforcement exists and order it corrected.
Glenn Flothe, a 24-year veteran who retired in 1998, testified April 4 that there is a substantial difference in the law enforcement in off- and on-road villages.
In rural Alaska, troopers generally are posted in regional hubs like Bethel, Dillingham, Kotzebue and Nome. They may be anywhere from an hour to days away when trouble hits an off-road village, he said, compared to an average response time of 45 minutes to a town on the road system.
In road towns, troopers are often an integrated part of the community; their presence can deter criminal activity and public disturbances, said Flothe, former commander of the Bethel trooper detachment.
In a road community, 'it's not unusual for a trooper to drive out to areas where juveniles' are known to party and carouse, he said. In an off-road village, 'the troopers are simply not there to deal with those kinds of problems.'
The village officers do their best, Flothe testified, but receive only one-sixth the training certified troopers and police officers receive, and must contact an 'oversight trooper' before acting on a felony complaint.
Chief assistant attorney general Dean Guaneli, representing the state, said that Village Public Safety Officers provide services besides law enforcement. Isn't it true, Guaneli asked Flothe, that the VPSOs also coordinate search-and-rescue efforts and are trained in fire suppression, water and boating safety and to provide emergency medical treatment?
'That's right,' Flothe said. 'It's not just law enforcement; it's public safety for the community.'
Guaneli and assistant attorney general Jim Baldwin tried to show it can take troopers a long time to respond to calls on the road system. 'Isn't it true that a single trooper on patrol (in some parts of the road system) has to cover an area the size of West Virginia?' the attorney asked.
State troopers supervise the VPSOs, who are paid by nonprofit arms of Native regional corporations and work under the direction of village councils.