Legislature(2017 - 2018)GRUENBERG 120
03/21/2017 03:00 PM STATE AFFAIRS
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HB 163-DPS LAW ENFORCE. SVCS: AGREEMENTS/FEES 4:08:06 PM CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 163, "An Act authorizing the Department of Public Safety to enter into agreements with nonprofit regional corporations and federal, tribal, and local government agencies to provide law enforcement services; authorizing the Department of Public Safety to collect fees for certain law enforcement services; and providing for an effective date." 4:09:04 PM COLONEL JAMES COCKRELL, Director, Alaska State Troopers (AST), Department of Public Safety (DPS), presented HB 163 on behalf of the House Rules Standing Committee, sponsor, by request of the governor. He stated that through the years, AST has been impacted by the boom and bust of the economy and has looked for ways to provide professional services to underserved areas. He said that recently the communities of Nikiski and Big Lake asked if they could "contract out" with AST. He mentioned that AST's "battle" with the Municipality of Anchorage is what prompted AST to take "ownership" of areas inside the Municipality of Anchorage and Girdwood. He relayed that DPS offered a potential contract to the community of Girdwood. He asserted that since payments under such a contract would be made to the State of Alaska and not AST, such an arrangement would not help AST's budget or accomplish what was needed - keeping troopers "on the road" or providing services to Girdwood. Girdwood chose another option, which was contracting with the Whittier Police Department. COLONEL COCKRELL provided a summary and a sectional analysis of HB 163, which read as follows [original punctuation provided]: Summary: This bill allows the Department of Public Safety to enter into agreements with nonprofit regional corporations and government agencies to provide law enforcement services and to collect reasonable fees for the law enforcement services provides. It provides the Department receipt authority for the funds collected and limits applicability to entities that do not have a police force of public safety coverage as of the effective date of the Act. Section 1: Amends 37.05.146 (c) by adding a new subsection: (90) fees collected by the Department of Public Safety for law enforcement services under AS 44.41.020 (g) Section 2: Amends AS 44.41.020 by adding a new subsection (g); this additional subsection gives the Department the authority to enter into agreements with nonprofit regional corporations, or federal, tribal, or local governments and to collect reasonable fees to cover the costs of providing services; Section 3: Amends the uncodified law by adding a new section that limits the applicability of AS 44.41.020 (g) to nonprofit regional corporations or federal, tribal, and local government agencies that do not have an organized police force or contracted public safety coverage as of the effective date of the Act. Section 4: Provides for an effective day of July 1, 2017. 4:13:06 PM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX asked why the proposed legislation is limited to areas without an organized police force or contracted public safety agreements as of the effective date of the Act. She suggested that after the effective date of the Act, a community might be in the same situation as was Girdwood. She mentioned as an example the unincorporated area of Chiniak near Kodiak. COLONEL COCKRELL responded that in the situation of Kodiak and Chiniak, the proposed legislation would allow DPS to contract with a government entity or the Kodiak Island Borough to provide police services to Chiniak to augment the services that DPS is currently providing to Kodiak. REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX relayed that Girdwood is part of the Municipality of Anchorage. She said that if a community was in a situation exactly like the Girdwood situation, and the situation occurred after the effective date of the act, then there would be an organized police force for that community. She asked why the proposed legislation is not written such that the Department of Public Safety (DPS) could enter into an agreement with such a community. COLONEL COCKRELL replied that Girdwood has contracted with the Whittier Police Department instead of the Anchorage Police Department. He stated that the fear is that those cities with bigger police departments, such as Bethel or Kotzebue, would decide to no longer have police departments, and the State of Alaska then would be responsible [for public safety]. He said DPS does not want to take on that responsibility or to be in competition with established local police departments. He said the people of Girdwood have chosen the Whittier Police Department and he does not know if DPS could contract with Girdwood under the proposed legislation. REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX referred to the North Slope Borough (NSB), which includes the City of Barrow and the outlying areas. She said that if the NSB Police Department does not wish to provide services to the outlying areas, then she does not see anything wrong with Barrow paying for AST to provide services. 4:17:02 PM COLONEL COCKRELL responded that the intent of HB 163 is to allow areas with limited police protection to pay for AST to augment the coverage it already provides to the area. He gave the example of Soldotna and Nikiski: AST has a substantial post in Soldotna, but there are still not enough troopers to cover the area. Nikiski wanted to contract [with DPS] for troopers to augment what is being provided by the post in Soldotna. He suggested that in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, several villages might wish to contract for extra trooper coverage to augment what the Bethel troopers are providing to the area. He reiterated that AST does not want to compete with the boroughs or municipalities for providing police services. REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX mentioned that in the Hillside area of Anchorage, the coverage is relatively sparse. She offered that if Hillside, through a non-profit corporation, decided that it wanted to contract for more trooper service, why not allow that option? COLONEL COCKRELL answered that he thought that DPS would be flexible in adopting that type of approach as long as it had the flexibility to say "no." He stated that DPS's fear is that it would be forced to enter into a contractual arrangement with an area. He asserted that the intent of the proposed legislation is to help the smaller communities that have very limited law enforcement resources. He added that he believes the more flexibility DPS has, the better off it is. He said that this is an experiment - something which hasn't been done in Alaska. He offered that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police ("Mounties") provide police for Whitehorse and several of the territories. REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX offered that the proposed legislation would not give DPS the flexibility it wants, because it precludes contracts with any entity in which there is an organized police force. COLONEL COCKRELL replied that DPS would be open to looking at changing the language in the proposed legislation to address Representative LeDoux's concern. 4:20:50 PM REPRESENTATIVE BIRCH asked what the mission was of DPS geographically and objectively with respect to the services it delivers. COLONEL COCKRELL responded that AST has enforcement powers throughout the state including municipalities. It has posts from Prince of Wales Island to the most northern post of Kotzebue. He said that DPS has statewide authority over all "search and rescues" in the state, which average over 500 per year. It provides special investigative services to the Anchorage Police Department (APD) and all the smaller departments. It is the only statewide drug enforcement agency in the state. He added that the wildlife troopers enforce all the fish and game laws in the state. He offered that its scope and mission are endless considering its responsibilities. REPRESENTATIVE BIRCH gave as an example the Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB), which includes about 100,000 people in the borough, 30,000 in Fairbanks, and a few thousand in North Pole. He asked if DPS provides law enforcement outside the corporate city limits of North Pole and Fairbanks but within the borough. COLONEL COCKRELL replied, "Correct." He added that AST provides services for more residents than do the Fairbanks and North Pole police departments. He mentioned that the Matanuska-Susitna ("Mat-Su") Valley has two police departments, but AST serves over 85,000 residents of the Mat-Su Valley with 34 patrol troopers. He said that in the Kenai Peninsula, there are city police departments in Homer, Kenai, Soldotna, and Seward, but these departments have minimal "footprints" on the entire Kenai Peninsula. He asserted that AST covers much more territory and residents than the city [police departments] combined. REPRESENTATIVE BIRCH stated that Girdwood is outside of the construct of the APD, "so it basically is no different than the greater FNSB." He said his expectation is that AST would provide services to those areas in the greater Municipality of Anchorage that are outside the police service area. COLONEL COCKRELL responded that it has been the state's position that all the areas within the Municipality of Anchorage are under the APD, not AST. 4:24:50 PM REPRESENTATIVE BIRCH asked if AST still has officers stationed in Fort Yukon or Holy Cross. COLONEL COCKRELL answered no. He said that officers have not been stationed in Holy Cross for the last 20 years and in Fort Yukon, not since 1987. REPRESENTATIVE BIRCH stated that the committee learned that there are 76 funded Village Public Safety Officer (VPSO) positions and 52 filled. He said that they also learned that the money not spent on the unfilled positions does not go back to the state, but is kept by the contractors. He asked if AST has an opportunity to compete for those contracted positions. COLONEL COCKRELL said that AST depends greatly on the VPSOs across the state. He mentioned that they struggle with the same challenges as does AST - recruitment and retention. He added that their turnover rate is about thirty-three percent annually. He stated that they live in very difficult areas of the state regarding lack of infrastructure, housing, offices, and plumbing. He added that sometimes they must perform court arraignments over the telephone, because there is a prisoner in the other holding cell. He asserted that VPSOs are the "eyes and ears" of AST when the troopers go to the villages. He said that the VPSOs certainly suffer when there are that many vacancies, especially in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, where there are 11 vacancies out 15 or 18 positions. He said that the proposed legislation is not designed to create competition with the VPSO program. He added that the hope is that AST would augment the VPSO program. Studies show that communities are safer with either a VPSO in the village or both a VPSO and a state trooper in the village. He cited Emmonak, Hooper Bay, and Togiak as communities with both VPSOs and troopers. He added that the villages in Western Alaska are struggling with crime and sexual assaults. He said that his focus has been to provide more troopers to Western Alaska, but in accomplishing that, troopers were taken out of the urban areas. 4:28:35 PM REPRESENTATIVE KNOPP mentioned that Title 29 [of the Alaska Statutes] controls the powers granted to the boroughs. He stated that as a second-class borough, Nikiski did not create a law enforcement service area or adopt police powers. He asked if Nikiski would have had to vote to create a law enforcement service area for DPS to contract with the city. REPRESENTATIVE KNOPP offered that a non-profit [organization] has no authority outside of what it owns, so he didn't see how it could contract for law enforcement services without the people voting for "that power." He asked if the residents of a rural community with a non-profit regional corporation would have to vote on the service area before contracting out for police services and if that would be an issue with the governing body of the community. COLONEL COCKRELL, in answer to the first question, replied that his understanding is that in the '90s, Nikiski voted to tax themselves for police services and then voted again in 2013. He added that Nikiski was in close contact with DPS during that time. He said that the answer to Representative Knopp's question was yes, Nikiski would have to vote to tax themselves and the Kenai Peninsula Borough (KPB) would pay the troopers [through a contract with DPS] to provide services to augment the services out of Soldotna. He said that his greatest fear regarding HB 163 is a scenario in which Nikiski asked for five state troopers under a contract costing possibly $1 million and the next administration or legislature would cut the AST budget by $1 million or by five positions. He asserted that the intent of the proposed legislation is for AST to improve services, not break even or even earn money. COLONEL COCKRELL, in answer to the second question, said that the non-profit regional corporations own swaths of land in rural Alaska and, except for Northwest Arctic Borough (NAB), they manage the VPSO programs. He said they could apply for grants to hire troopers to provide services to the villages. 4:32:17 PM REPRESENTATIVE KNOPP commented that the VPSO program has been a large source of controversy in the budget process this year. He said that in compensating the regional corporations for the VPSOs, two concerns have come forward: the money was not being used for its intended purpose, and the VPSOs do not have the same training as the police officers who attend the academy. He asked if there is a possibility that someday DPS would contract with the regional corporations and provide them with VPSOs who are employees of DPS, and VPSOs would be provided the same training and authority as is provided to state troopers. COLONEL COCKRELL answered that he felt that some of the testimony related to VPSOs during a House Finance Committee meeting had been disrespectful of the VPSO program. He said that not one dollar of the funds spent on the VPSO program goes to anything but salaries, benefits, and support of the program. He said that DPS interacts with nine entities, eight non-profits and NAB, in areas that are like "third world." He asserted that DPS provides for some very basic provisions, such as phone, water, electricity, building a jail cell, and a side-by-side [vehicle] for safe arrests. He stated, "There are so many things that they are lacking, and when we do have some extra money, there's nothing out there that doesn't go to that program." He added that the money stays in rural Alaska and does not go to Anchorage or any other place. He said that DPS has a record for every item purchased with the funds, and he oversees the purchases. He offered that the testimony he heard [in the previously mentioned House Finance Committee meeting] was disheartening, and perhaps he needs to do a better job of providing information about the VPSO program. COLONEL COCKRELL responded to Representative Knopp's other comment by saying that DPS is working with the regional non- profits, or contractors, to explore the idea of making VPSOs state employees under AST. He said he believes the idea has merit and cited the difficulty [currently] of interacting with eight different agencies with their own bureaucracies. He stated that there are many positives to making VPSOs state employees. He offered that doing so would not cost DPS any more money, since it pays indirect money to the contractors. He said he believes that doing so would be a step in the right direction and would help them be better aligned with the state troopers. He asserted that AST has oversight only over the contractor- operated VPSO programs and is often held responsible for things over which it has no control. He said that if DPS owned the program completely, then it could be held responsible. He mentioned that interacting directly with the tribes would generate more trust and ownership in the program. 4:38:25 PM REPRESENTATIVE WOOL asked if the legislation was proposed to address the "Girdwood situation" or a "rural situation" or both. COLONEL COCKRELL replied that the Girdwood situation "brought it to the forefront." He said the proposed legislation was intended for areas outside of AST's normal focus of patrol to augment what is already being done in the areas. He said there is the potential for [contracted agreements with DPS under HB 163] to be utilized in rural Alaska. He said that he does not know if HB 163 will result in contracts. He commented that he believes there is interest in contracting with DPS, and HB 163 would allow the flexibility to enter into contracts to improve services. He said that he has a fear that only the wealthier communities would be able to afford such contracts, and DPS does not want to get into a situation where it is providing more services to the wealthier areas. He stated that he is not opposed to offering this opportunity to rural areas, but DPS does not want to compete with cities such as Bethel, Kotzebue, or Nome. 4:41:57 PM REPRESENTATIVE WOOL asked if using troopers for the contract work proposed under HB 163 would create a shortage of troopers within AST. COLONEL COCKRELL said that the intent is not to take from trooper positions but to bring on additional troopers under contracts. He recommended that a contract be approved for no less than five years. He added that if the contract ended, AST always has enough trooper vacancies to hire the trooper or have him/her work under another contract. He said AST also has explored using retired state troopers or law enforcement officers hired into non-permanent ("non-perm") positions. He said that AST is looking at different options, and he can't answer that question definitively at this time until more is known regarding what will be needed. He reiterated that the goal is to provide more state troopers in Alaska. REPRESENTATIVE WOOL said that in the Girdwood situation, the town was going to lose a trooper due to lack of funding. COLONEL COCKRELL clarified that there were five state troopers assigned to Girdwood, and the Kenai Peninsula lost six or seven trooper positions at that time. He said that he made the decision to close the Girdwood station and move the positions back to the Kenai Peninsula, because having two troopers for the entire Kenai Peninsula on the "grave" shift was unacceptable. REPRESENTATIVE WOOL concluded that there was not enough funding for troopers to be permanently stationed in Girdwood, and they were redistributed. He offered that when troopers are pulled out of a community, some communities may be able to afford contracting for troopers and some may not. He asked if rural communities could share a contract for a trooper. COLONEL COCKRELL responded that he believes that potential exists, especially in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, or in the areas surrounding Kotzebue or Nome. He mentioned that, for example, three villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta could contract with a trooper to extend the coverage provided by the Bethel troopers. 4:46:33 PM REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON stated that she appreciates the intent of HB 163 to fill a need for troopers. She gave as an example the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which does not have police powers, and asked who would oversee the contracted trooper. COLONEL COCKRELL said that in the Mat-Su Borough, the troopers serve over 85,000 people. He said that if Big Lake decides that it needs more coverage than it currently gets from Mat-Su West and contracts with four troopers, then AST would oversee the troopers, and possibly a community board would coordinate with the AST detachment commander to ensure the troopers meet the goals of the contract. He added that the primary patrol area would be Big Lake; however, AST would allow that trooper to respond out of the Big Lake area if backup were needed elsewhere. REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON asked if the contracting agency would have to be a governmental agency or an entity with police powers. COLONEL COCKRELL answered that as HB 163 is written, the contracting agency would have to be a government agency. He said that in the Mat-Su Borough scenario, DPS would contract with Mat-Su Borough and the borough would collect taxes from Big Lake to cover the cost. He said that in the case of Houston, which currently does not have a police department, either the City of Houston or the Mat-Su Borough could contract with [DPS] for troopers using Houston's funds. He added that HB 163 is designed for towns such as Houston or Willow. 4:51:10 PM REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON referred to two problems brought forward in a House floor discussion regarding VPSOs: not enough trained VPSOs or people willing to take the VPSO positions; and [because positions were unfilled] the money going to the villages for VPSOs could not be used for that purpose. She asked if that money could be used to fund a trooper position. COLONEL COCKRELL said that AST could not use VPSO grant money to fund an Alaska State Trooper. He speculated that AST would have to get the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) and possibly legislative approval to use the money in that way, as it is strictly for the VPSO program. He mentioned that there are a few trooper positions that are funded through the VPSO program, but he said he didn't believe he could use the money to hire a trooper for a village. He said that recruitment for law enforcement officers across the county is difficult, and some of the large police departments in the Lower 48 are having the same issues as Alaska. He reiterated that VPSO programs have a huge turnover rate at thirty-three percent, and the most VPSOs Alaska has ever had was 101 VPSOs under Governor Sean Parnell's administration. Governor Parnell added 15 VPSO positions per year and one state trooper position to support the 15 VPSOs. He said that reductions in the budget brought the long-term number down to 70-80; the current number is in the 50s. COLONEL COCKRELL stated that originally a VPSO was a community officer hired from within the village to be a first responder but not take much action. He asserted that currently much more is required of VPSOs; they are essentially police officers; they attend the trooper academy and have the same training as Alaska State Troopers; they are now probation officers; and more VPSOs are hired from out-of-state and are not prepared for village life. He added that through the "rover" program, the VPSOs are kept more in the urban areas and are flown out to villages. He said there is not much willingness for troopers to live in the villages, and living in the urban area gives them a break from the village. CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS announced that HB 163 is held over.