Dept. of Public Safety: budget cuts mean less boots on the ground
Funding for criminal justice agencies is down 15 percent from 2002, according to the State Legislative Finance Division. The Department of Public Safety says that translates into less law enforcement boots on the ground.
Lawmakers asked the department to weigh in on increased crime in the state Thursday, and how budget cuts have affected their ability to manage it.
"94 percent of the command staff, which is lieutenants, captains and majors, are eligible to retire within the next five years," Colonel Hans Brinke, of the Alaska State Troopers told legislators. "80 percent of the command staff is eligible to retire within the next year."
Brinke says it's become difficult to offer the competitive wages and benefits to recruit more members and points to a national trend of fewer people seeking employment in law enforcement.
"I wasn't provided with the pay I think I need, and I wasn't provided with the security that I think my family and I need," is what Brinke says he hears from troopers who quit. "And when they talk about that they're specifically talking about the defined benefit package and the health coverage that comes along with that."
Reduced funding also lead to closure of the trooper post in Girdwood. APD is now patrolling that stretch of the Seward Highway.
"That becomes complicated because, on that stretch of the highway, we now have three different, I will say, artificial jurisdictions that we made up," said Anchorage Police Department Captain Sean Case. "So, all three of those locations are serviced in a different way and are funded in a different way, and none of the funding is consistent. And so we could see the funding deplete within the next six months to a year depending upon where that source came from."
Case says the 63 percent reduction Anchorage has seen, in revenue-sharing since 2013, meant a reduction in support staff for the department.
"We're going to have lower quality of service that we can provide," Case said -- pointing out that support staff includes those members who answer phones at the department and process records requests.
"They have, basically, 77 fewer employees than they did just four years ago, that's 38 troopers on the ground, less than they did before," said Rep. Scott Kawasaki, who chairs the committee in charge of the Department of Public Safety's budget. "With budgets like that, it's a real challenge to ensure that there's public safety and that people can feel safe in their homes."
"I think, it's not a question of increasing funding or decreasing funding," said House Minority Leader Charisse Millet. "I think it's priorities and allocation where that money is spent. when we give public safety money. A lot of times they have the ability to move that funding around within the allocation unit, and so for us, we can only do so much."
Lawmakers will gavel in for a fourth special session this year on October 23 to address a tax proposal by Gov. Bill Walker and changes to the state crime law -- Senate Bill 91. Any changes to the state budget will likely wait until next year.