Small Towns In Alaska Are Staffing Their Police Departments With Convicted Criminals

from the replacing-bad-cops-with-worse-cops dept

Hiring cops is hard work. That’s probably why we’re not exactly blessed with the best of the best. Over the past few years, police officer morale has been in a nosedive. As the public’s awareness of police misconduct has increased (along with third-party footage of said misconduct), cops have discovered the job is no longer quite as fun as it used to be. Lots of power and zero accountability is a hell of a drug, but even that wears off eventually.

But cop shops still need cops, so hiring continues. Law enforcement agencies endlessly recycle fired officers, giving them unearned shots at redemption. Other agencies have just given up, hiring whoever walks through the door expressing interest in the position.

When the openings exceed the hiring pool, you get the mess being inflicted on the residents of Stebbins, Alaska. This horrifying report by Kyle Hopkins for ProPublica demonstrates just how low the bar can be set for new hires if your agency is desperate enough.

In Stebbins alone, all seven of the police officers working as of July 1 have pleaded guilty to domestic violence charges within the past decade. Only one has received formal law enforcement training of any kind.

The current police chief pleaded guilty to throwing a teenage relative to the ground and threatening to kill her after drinking homebrew liquor in 2017. (Alcohol is illegal in the village.) He was hired a year later. He declined to answer questions in person and blocked a reporter on Facebook.

Two men who until recently were Stebbins police officers pleaded guilty to spitting in the faces of police officers; one was the subject of a 2017 sexual assault restraining order in which a mother said he exposed himself to her 12-year-old daughter.

Convicts are the new cops in Stebbins. But it’s not just a Stebbins problem. All across Alaska, law enforcement agencies are understaffed. A third of Alaskan towns have no local cops at all. No cops might be the better choice. The ProPublica investigation found that at least 14 Alaskan cities employ officers with criminal records — something that violates Department of Public Safety regulations. (It also violates common sense, but only the former can levy fines and enforce compliance.)

The most common convictions are for domestic violence. This is a problem that’s inherent to law enforcement. Studies performed in the 1990s found that 40% of police officer families experienced domestic violence as compared to 10% of the rest of the population. There’s very little reason to believe this has improved over the past 20 years. Law enforcement agencies simply do not punish officers who engage in domestic violence.

In many departments, an officer will automatically be fired for a positive marijuana test, but can stay on the job after abusing or battering a spouse…

[…]

[W]hile most officials say they treat domestic abuse by officers as they would any other form of misconduct, interviews and disciplinary records indicate that, in fact, punishment is often light and job loss uncommon.

Given this permissive environment, the situation may have gotten worse since these studies were performed. The most pessimistic take on ProPublica’s investigation is that the only difference between the Stebbins police force and other law enforcement agencies is the number of domestic violence convictions.

Odds are, it’s not going to get any better. The state’s Department of Public Safety has basically given up on policing the state’s police officers. It’s also ceding its position, since zero oversight definitely won’t improve the public’s safety. This means vulnerable Alaskan communities will be all the more vulnerable for the foreseeable future.

In Mountain Village, population 864, one recent VPO [Village Police Officer] awaits trial on charges of stealing from a murder scene. Court records show five other recent VPOs in the same Yukon River community are awaiting hearings or have admitted to criminal charges including four counts of disorderly conduct, three counts of assault, two cases of neglect, two cases of drunken driving, two charges of harassment and three cases of domestic violence.

Along the Norton Sound coast, the city of Shaktoolik in May hired a VPO who has pleaded guilty to five assault charges within the past 10 years. “He was our only applicant so we had no other choice,” a city employee said.

Among those hired as TPOs in the fishing villages of Kasigluk and Tuntutuliak, located among the vast web of river-fed lakes in western Alaska, are registered sex offenders who admitted to abuse of a minor or attempted sexual abuse of a minor.

There’s nothing in these jobs that attracts good people, much less great people. It mainly attracts people who can’t find work elsewhere because of their criminal records. But police departments are willing to overlook this just to keep the positions filled. This isn’t an acceptable compromise. The entity standing between the Alaskan public and the police has failed to hold the line and the state’s taxpayers will continue to pay for a problem the state’s not willing to fix.

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Comments on “Small Towns In Alaska Are Staffing Their Police Departments With Convicted Criminals”

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78 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

RACIST!

regarding Stebbins, Alaska:

>"The racial makeup of the city was 5.12% White, 0.18% Black or African American, 93.97% Native American, and 0.73% from two or more races. "

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stebbins,_Alaska

This is exactly the sort of "news" that one would expect to see posted on Stormfront or the Daily Stormer, to demonstrate the "savagery" and "inferiority" of Native Americans and to provide further proof of their incapability to properly govern themselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

See also ETHNOCENTRISM:

Ethnocentrism is the tendency to view the world through the lens of one’s own culture. That is, individuals tend to judge others’ behaviors, customs, beliefs, and attitudes by their own cultural standards.

http://psychology.iresearchnet.com/social-psychology/cultural-psychology/ethnocentrism/

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

In an actual town in Alaska only a mile square downtown there was only 60 cops attached to the department. I won’t say which town for fear of fallout, but suffice to say its no reason there are so many convicted criminals in Alaska when half the state’s population is in some sort of branch of law enforcement or military. Use of civilian population to practice law enforcement is a real thing in Alaska.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Ethnocentricism

Getting smacked for doing something stupid or harmful is NOT VIOLENCE. Having your Second Amendment rights disolved by a court and years of collected weapons used only for hunting stolen by le for crimes the court and law say you might commit is so Goddamned FUCKED UP. This is not America.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

No, what this government has predicated upon the population is not allow for human beings to become upset or to become emotional. Its a natural human condition to respond as one has been taught and Ii have been abused all my life. Sexually assaulted at the age of two by a 15 year old adolescent satan worshipper I remember as if her rubbing my screaming face in her snatch while she cursed my family. Assaulted at the age of five by the principal of my elementary school on my first day of kibdergarten. Paddled all through 12 years of school and punished and assaulted by my father until I entered military. Punished and tortured by the military. And while being arrested by a swat team assault and battery and attempted murder on my life for alledgedly smacking my girlfriend. So you might be a little confused.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

The violence the government inflicts upon the population has increased a hundredfold while the restrictive laws it has inflicted has increased a thousandfold in the last two generations. Lawsuits have taken the place of school administrators physical punishment of students and that is a good thing. But this government has inflicted death and destruction on fifty countries in my lifetime and thats not good.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Liberals as monsters.

Around 1990, there was a social trend to make liberals (people who believe in liberalism which had a lot of pro-public policy platforms) into bogeymen. It worked. The movement, propelled by conservative campaign strategists and think-tanks was so successful that the Democratic party in later elections rebranded themselves as progressives.

Contemporary Liberalism in the US has become even more extreme (that is, seeking to implement greater degrees of change) as forced conservative values (unregulated capitalism, religion-based social morality, authoritarian governance, militant foreign policy, demolition of social welfare programs) continue to deteriorate the integrity of the society, the positions of liberalism have moved further left (pushing for even more regulations, the socialization of even more industries, and better transparency of government, more and better welfare benefits with easier qualifications and so on).

Curiously, progressivism used to be a left-leaning form of conservatism, and while it’s currently branded as moderate liberalism, it’s really even further right than its prior iteration (note the Obama era was very solidly a continuation of George W. Bush era foreign polices).

Now I commonly note that labels for certain identities (feminist, Christian, conservative, communist) are so commonplace and held by so many people that it’s impossible to find a given axiom that the entire group shares, so IRL these labels are pretty useless.

That said, one who identifies as liberal is probably going to have a different view of liberalism than one who sees liberals as a voting bloc, or one who has been taught to hate and wage war on liberals.

And the same can be said for conservatives.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Origins of Antifa

We had that conversation recently. I refer you to it..

I also talked about the origins of antifa as a natural reaction to an era when a state decides that millions of people are illegal and eradicates them based on ideology. I suspect vigilante groups like antifa are going to be a thing until we figure out why the fuck people decide supporting such states is a good idea and immunize against it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: RACIST!

And yet, the only one who even cared to check was you

Did no one else even look at the featured article at Propublica? Every one of the cops photographed looked like a full-blooded American Indian (or maybe Filipino, I get them confused sometimes) and that’s extremely atypical for an American police force. But race and gender often get cherrypicked by journalists so the people profiled don’t reflect a true random sample of the population being represented. That’s when it’s time to check the actual data. In this case, the pictorial representations were accurate.

But I’ve got to wonder, is it considered "racist" to believe that isolated native populations should be left alone instead of being judged (and punished) according to Western standards? If so, was it really "justice" that half the male population of remote Pitcairn Island recently got slapped with prison sentences by New Zealand (from practically half a world away) for doing the same exact thing as all their ancestors before them had always done? And will it be considered "justice" for the police force of Stebbins to suffer a similar fate? Or would such punishment be another facet of racism?

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Three things.

  1. No one is even remotely making the argument that the police force of any of those Alaskan cities be put in prison or face any other, similar kind of punishment.
  2. Criticism of an institution such as policing is not critcism of a group of racialized people.
  3. You’re the only one bringing race into a discussion in which race is irrelevant.
Hugo S Cunningham (profile) says:

Re: RACIST!

The first time I read this post, I assumed, as the poster intended, that he was a hypersensitive anti-racism crusader. The second time I read it, however, I realize it is intended as an advertisement for Stormfront and other racist websites. A fairly clever troll, but one that cannot do the troller much good, because the websites are too extreme to be accepted by casual visitors.

Robert Beckman (profile) says:

Selection Bias

Hoping someones seen a study, but do we know which way the abuse causation runs?

a) Bad people want to be cops because it gives them more power
or
b) Dealing with the worst side of humanity makes people go bad

If it’s (b), then who we hire won’t really matter, since even the best will go bad. If it’s (a), then it’s just a matter of hiring the right people (which is hard itself).

Pretty sure it’s actually a complicated answer, but has anyone seen a study showing what the split is?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Selection Bias

Pretty sure it’s actually a complicated answer, but has anyone seen a study showing what the split is?

There likely is a split between the two as to who joins and why(and therefore whether they were corrupt before they joined or the job corrupted them), the problem with quantifying it is that no-one’s going to honestly answer ‘Yeah, I just joined so I could crack some skulls, rob people blind and/or molest people and get away with it.’

andrew618 (profile) says:

Re: Selection Bias

(Anecdotal, rather than based on peer-reviewed research, but I claim a right to comment since I’ve "been there, done that." I’m sure research exists, probably someplace on the DoJ website)

It’s a combination of both. I spent 14 years as a cop, and worked with a number of officers who came on the job for the wrong reasons: to exert authority over others, to "repay" society for slights they (the officers) had suffered (at least in their own minds), and for the power and prestige (and for the legal authority to carry a gun and kill people). But there were many more — and I caught myself falling into this trap, which is why I got out — who deal with the dregs of society (regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, orientation, etc) and eventually find themselves believing that all members of the chosen demographic — blacks, teens, Hispanics, women, druggies, what have you — are ALL dirtbags. I was in an urban area, so most of the violators I dealt with were POC (which wasn’t surprising; in that area, they started with nothing, had no chance to advance beyond that point, so naturally started taking by force what society wouldn’t allow them to achieve honestly), and I began to believe that all POC, with the exception of my partner, were criminals. FWIW, even my partner began harboring suspicions about his community; he got out the same time I did.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Selection Bias

First of all it is only a minority of the number of cops that go rogue. Don’t get caught limiting your choices to only two as in an ‘either/ or’ semantic syndrome. Its probably everything under the sun as there doesn’t seem to be a club membership for bad cops getting together to do bad things. Shit happens.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: The "few bad apples" argument.

A few bad apples will rot the barrel.

No the system is demonstrably corrupt, from the mandate on officers in NYC to perform Terry stops to the absurd false-positive rates of detection dogs. Every paragon officer is having to face the choice of tolerating corruption in plain sight, sometimes participating in it (e.g. lying in court under oath to back their brethren) or leaving, and then opting whether or not to blow a whistle at risk of reprisal.

Law enforcement in the US is systemically corrupt.

Panda Kahn (profile) says:

It is always worse than they let on.

As someone who has lived in Alaska their entire life I can only add that the need for peace officers in the rural areas is extreme. Finding people to take the job, let alone qualified people, is very difficult. Their is a long history of people getting hired to work int he bush who never should have been allowed to apply for the job, let alone interview. The individuals who have criminal records, violence convictions and such should (and are, technically) be barred from these positions. The reality is that some locations are given any warm body that the state can find to fill the slot. Due to it being a small, remote, site the effort to find that right person for the job has been lacking.

No matter the reason, law enforcement must be held to a higher standard. The lack of accountability, by law enforcement personell and those that employ them, for these actions leads those that must deal with them in a position of distrust and fear. If you can’t do the job and be above reproach then you should not be doing the job.

Nastybutler77 (profile) says:

Re: It is always worse than they let on.

Another lifelong Alaskan here to confirm this. I’ll add that these remote native villages have a high number of domestic and assault convictions across the entire population (citation needed but I’m on mobile so…), so much so that most anyone living there will be in the same boat as the officers, and you’d have to pay a high premium to get anyone from outside the area to live there full time.

These VPOs aren’t real police and whenever anything serious happens, the VPOs are just there to hold the fort until a State Trooper can fly in to handle any actual police work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It is always worse than they let on.

Let the man who has committed no sin cast the first stone. Anyone remember when once a man who did something against the law served his debt to society and then was allowed to go on living a productive life? These law enforcers don’t want a world of peaceful law abiding people or they would have to stir up shit themselves or sit on their thumbs waiting for a tradgedy to happen by accident. They discourage rehabilitation somewhere in the system to keep a person in chains if not physically then mentally.

That One Guy (profile) says:

When 'none' is better than the alternative

Along the Norton Sound coast, the city of Shaktoolik in May hired a VPO who has pleaded guilty to five assault charges within the past 10 years. “He was our only applicant so we had no other choice,” a city employee said.

Uh, no, at that point you make a public statement that the only candidate was blatantly unqualified for the position, and as such it would remain unfilled until a qualified person applies.

Not having anyone in the position would be heavily preferable over one that has a demonstrable history of violent behavior, as someone like that has absolutely no business being given a gun and a position of serious power to use it.

Nastybutler77 (profile) says:

No surprises to an Alaskan

This does not come as much of a surprise. I posted a reply to another commenter with most of what I wanted to say, and while this is obviously terrible, it’s no secret here that village culture is different than most places in the US.

VPOs aren’t full police officers for this reason. I don’t even think many of them can carry guns. It’s been a known problem in this state for decades. Hopefully the national attention will drive some change on this issue.

terrence says:

Alaska villages

Hi Tim, my ex girlfriend is from Port Graham, near Homer Alaska was subjected to worse abuse than I can write about, the situation you describe is much worse than you know and her uncle was a village vpo and he is creepy but nice. Typical, her uncle that raped her as a kid was treated as an uncle, I repulsed as I shook his hand but she took us shopping and acted normal. Weird does not describe it, it gets worse with her sister but she is a meth head I think. The rumors I have heard over the last 26 years have been proven mostly true, multiply the rape numbers by maybe 10 and you are getting closer. Sorry.
Peace.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

AS LONG AS IT WASN’T VIOLENT FELONY, THEY WENT.

That certainly makes sense. You wouldn’t want violent felons going over to an enemy country to kill as many of the enemy as humanly possible. Maybe they would turn on their own officers, but hell anyone could potentially become completely unpredictable in the face of insanity.

Anonymous Coward says:

This assault on Alaska has only happened in the last four decades. When oil corporations showed up. When factory processors showed up dropping gear over smaller boats gear running ten miles of gear out. The USCG become outrageous after the oil spill in 1989. State troopers multiplied like rabbits. There used to be Three. state trooper vehicles between Valdez Anchorage and Fairbanks. A red Trans Am, a white Trans Am and a blue one. Now they are EVERYWHERE. They show up at every party and every cookout uninvited and treat everyone like potential criminal. Last frontier is their playground.

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