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I need help at my house, the woman said. There had been a home invasion, she learned. One of the local sex offenders, who out Reed 7-to-1, had pried open a window and crawled inside, she said. Reed, a year-old grandmother, was the only cop in the village. She carried no gun and, after five years on the job, had received a total of three weeks of law enforcement training. She had no backup. Even when the fitful weather allows, the Alaska State Troopers, the statewide police force that travels to villages to make felony arrests, are a half-hour flight away.

If she does, Kiana could become the latest Alaska village asked to survive with no local police protection of any kind. An investigation by the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica has found one in three communities in Alaska has no local law enforcement. No state troopers to stop an active shooter, no village police officers to break up family fights, not even untrained city or tribal cops to patrol the streets. Almost all of the communities are primarily Alaska Native. Seventy of these unprotected villages are large enough to have both a school and a post office.

Many are in regions with some of the highest rates of poverty , sexual assault and suicide in the United States. Most can be reached only by plane, boat, all-terrain vehicle or snowmobile. That means, unlike most anywhere else in the United States, emergency help is hours or even days away. When a village police officer helps in a sex crime investigation by documenting evidence, securing the crime scene and conducting interviews, the case is more likely to be prosecuted, the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center concluded in Yet communities with no first responders of any kind can be found along the salmon-filled rivers of Western Alaska, the pancake tundra of the northwest Arctic and the icy rainforests in the southeast panhandle.

In the 60 years since Alaska became a state, some Alaska Native leaders say, a string of governors and Legislatures have failed to protect indigenous communities by creating an unconstitutional, two-tiered criminal justice system that leaves villagers unprotected compared with their mostly white counterparts in the cities and suburbs.

ProPublica and the Daily News asked more than traditional councils, tribal corporations and city governments representing communities if they employ peace officers of any sort. It is the most comprehensive investigation of its kind in Alaska. The lack of local police and public safety infrastructure routinely leaves residents to fend for themselves. The mayor of the Yukon River village of Russian Mission said that within the past couple years, residents duct-taped a man who had been firing a gun within the village and waited for troopers to arrive. In nearby Marshall, villagers locked their doors last year until a man who was threatening to shoot people had fallen asleep, then grabbed him and tied him up.

In Kivalina, a February burglary closed the post office for a week because the village had no police officer to investigate. Elsewhere, tribes mete out banishment for serious crimes from meth dealing to arson. Many of the unprotected villages are in western Alaska, where sex crime rates are double the statewide average. Rape survivors, as in the Kiana home invasion case, are told not to shower and must fly to hub cities or even hundreds of miles to Anchorage to undergo a sexual assault examination.

The problem is getting worse. Our investigation found the of police provided through the state Village Public Safety Officer Program is at or near an all-time low; the few who remain are often unhappy and overextended. When the lone VPSO in the northwest Arctic village of Ambler investigated a domestic violence call in April, for example, he said he was attacked by two people in the home who each grabbed one of his arms. In a subsequent report, he described it as one of the scariest moments of his life as he struggled to break free and grab a can of pepper spray.

Rather than raise pay or boost recruitment, Gov. State lawmakers are working on a competing spending plan with fewer cuts, which would maintain VPSO funding at current levels and provide potentially smaller dividends. Dunleavy has said growth in state spending is the problem, not annual checks to residents. Whether each Alaskan also receives basic public safety protection — the ability to dial and have a police officer or trooper show up at the door — depends largely on whether they live in cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks, or off the road system.

Martha Whitman-Kassock, who oversees self-governance programs for the Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents, grew up in rural Alaska and said the state appears to have no strategy for adding cops in villages. Purchased from Russia in , the frontier attracted a flood of gold miners and church missionaries. The newcomers brought Western diseases — diphtheria and influenza, smallpox and tuberculosis — killing thousands of Alaska Natives. The missionaries built churches and, soon, boarding schools. So many village children were sexually abused by priests that a class-action lawsuit bankrupted the Fairbanks Diocese.

In , the state created the Village Public Safety Officer Program to place lifesaving peacekeepers in remote communities. The commander of the Alaska State Troopers at the time, Col. The of these VPSOs, unarmed peace officers paid for with state funds but employed by regional nonprofits and boroughs, has plummeted from more than in to 42 today.

In some cases , promising VPSO recruits accept higher-paying offers in urban police departments or private security, leaving villages without their local officer. Five years ago, the state employed troopers statewide.

At the end of last year, that had shrunk to Outside Kiana City Hall, ravens pinwheeled above the trees on a weekday afternoon in March. A breeze carried snowmobile exhaust and wood smoke above newly built homes on stilts in the upper village down to old-town log cabins. Inside the city building, council members in Carhartts and snow pants held their monthly meeting. For 90 minutes they shared powdered doughnuts and talked about utility rates, until it was time for Annie Reed to give a public safety report.

There had been several assaults over the past two weeks, said Reed, the village police officer who investigated the home invasion rape. About calls. When a village has no VPSO and no trooper, the only remaining option is an officer like Reed, hired by the local city government or tribe. Called village police officers or tribal police officers, they receive no benefits and are the lowest-paid and least-trained form of law enforcement in Alaska.

These kinds of officers often find themselves performing tasks intended for armed, fully trained police. Reed thought she was going to be enforcing city ordinances like curfew and stopping underage drivers, not refereeing armed fights. The problems range from barking dogs to suicides to domestic brawls. She is never off duty. In Kiana, a series of trails and unpaved ro connect the neighborhoods, spilling onto the frozen rivers below.

On one corner, a man with a mop of wild hair sat in his living room talking about the time he called Reed for help when his adult son began kicking him in the ribs. The parents snapped at each other. As they argued, their daughter became angry. Why was everyone sharing family business, she asked? The father leaped to his feet and pushed her across the living room. The young woman silently caught herself and slumped on the couch, her eyes returning to the TV. A current VPSO, who asked not to be named and is not based in Kiana, said opening the door on one of these family fights is the most frightening task facing any solo Alaska peace officer.

While state law allows for communities to arm VPSOs and even city-hired village police officers like Reed, the director of the Alaska Police Standards Council said he is not aware of any employers that do so, partly because it could make insurance liability rates skyrocket for small communities.

In Savoonga, a Bering Sea island community closer to Russia than to mainland Alaska, the police chief, Michael Wongittilin, said that the first time he put on his uniform, a man aimed a shotgun at him. She began working as a cop about five years ago when a family member said the job would suit her.

She is originally from Utqiagvik, the northernmost city in the United States, where whaling is a seasonal rite. Family ties between police, crime victims and offenders are impossible to avoid in villages of a few hundred people. Many officers said those inherent conflicts make the job less appealing to potential applicants. His breath steamed in the cold, his teeth clenched. Two bounding white puppies circled his feet. He was there serving time on an assault charge that Reed had investigated. It was a messy family dispute between stepbrothers in January, with kids inside the home.

Hours before a state trooper was able to get to the village, Reed arrived and took statements. Kotzebue prosecutors filed charges and Henry turned himself in a few days later, pleading guilty to fourth-degree assault. Henry noted that Reed, like many village police officers, has a rap sheet of her own.

She pleaded guilty to a harassment charge in and to misdemeanor assault in Both cases involved fights with family members, a record that would prevent her from working as a police officer in Anchorage or other large departments. Reed described the cases as minor events that do not interfere with her work. She otherwise declined to comment on them. Under state law, village police officers are not supposed to have felony records but misdemeanors can be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Alaska Police Standards Council Executive Director Bob Griffiths said domestic violence convictions of any kind usually disqualify someone from receiving state approval to be a village officer. But village police officers with criminal records are routinely hired without a background check because village leaders do not inform the state of new hires, and the regulation requiring them to do so has no teeth, Griffiths said. Not everyone wants more big-city style, badge-and-gun policing in Alaska villages. Often, city and tribal leaders seek a mix of traditional peacekeeping and modern law enforcement.

The lakeside fishing community of Igiugig has requested a VPSO for years, said AlexAnna Salmon, village council president, but it has not received one. A pilot program proposed by Rep. Don Young , a Republican, would give special criminal jurisdiction to five Alaska tribal governments under the Violence Against Women Act. Lisa Murkowski , a Republican who has pursued federal funding for village tribal courts, recently called on U. Attorney General William Barr to visit Alaska villages to see the public safety problems firsthand.

It makes it easier to be the perpetrator. Research suggests that factors such as self determination , the presence of prominent traditional elders and employment opportunities — rather than more police — are the key to reducing suicide, alcohol abuse and other problems that have troubled many Alaska villages. But dozens of village and tribal leaders told the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica they want and need police protection.

On the shores of the Bering Strait, the whaling town is the westernmost city in mainland North America. Or they smoke pot or have a felony record, both of which are disqualifying. When a screaming man broke the door to the tribal office in Kokhanok, a village on the shores of Iliamna Lake with people and no police, tribe employee Lysa Lacson said she was forced to evacuate the building.

That was in December, Lacson said. The tribe told local airlines that the man was forbidden from flying back to Kokhanok. Sometimes the banished fly in to a different village and boat home, she said. Troopers say the suspect appeared at a schoolhouse vowing to kill the principal, who in turn warned villagers of the attack over VHF radios. The custodian locked the school doors and teachers herded students into the gymnasium and lunchroom, where adults stood guard at entrances. Kotlik tribal administrator Pauline Okitkun said the town sometimes has village police officers, depending on funding.

There was a young woman employed as one at the time, she said, but the call was too dangerous for her to handle unarmed and alone. The man stabbed three people, including one who struck his arm with a piece of rebar to try and knock free the 8-inch knife, according to charges filed against him.

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