Anchorage's new DA still a believer in SB 91
State officials have appointed a new district attorney for Alaska’s largest city, tapping the head of an office that oversaw numerous Department of Administration legal cases for the job.
Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth’s office announced Richard Allen will take on the position effective Nov. 6. He replaces Clint Campion, who announced his resignation in September amid concerns about troubled Alaska criminal-justice reform law Senate Bill 91.
“Rick is a great fit for Anchorage,” Lindemuth said in a statement. “He brings extensive prosecutorial and management experience to the largest district attorney’s office in the state. Anchorage and the surrounding communities will be fortunate to have an attorney of his caliber leading prosecutions.”
Rob Henderson, the state’s deputy attorney general, said Allen is an experienced prosecutor familiar with operating a high-volume legal office.
“More felony prosecutions are handled by the Anchorage district attorney’s office than anywhere else in the state,” Henderson said. “Rick’s background will be invaluable to ensuring that offenders are held accountable and that victims are heard.”
Allen’s first Alaska prosecutorial job began in 2004, when he started seven years of work as a Palmer-based assistant district attorney. After that, he was named to lead the state Office of Public Advocacy, where he led more than 225 attorneys and support staff handling cases involving elder fraud, child protection and public guardianship.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Allen said his priorities would be fighting violent crime, particularly a wave of Anchorage homicides that has recently overtaken the city’s 2016 homicide toll, as well as an uptick in property crimes including car thefts.
“I really feel that the Anchorage district attorney’s position is a chance to combine my courtroom skills with the chance I’ve had to manage a large office, so I’m excited about this opportunity,” Allen said.
Asked about SB 91, Allen acknowledged that it had fixable flaws but said he continues to support it -- and that he believes committing to rehabilitation efforts can help combat opioid-related crime.
“I think you’ll see a reduction in crime if we see a reduction in opioid use, so I think if we’re able to reduce one we’ll see a reduction in the other,” Allen said.
Allen said the Anchorage DA’s office had fallen from 36 prosecutors to 29 in recent years due to the state’s ongoing budget cuts. He was optimistic, however, about his ability to restore those positions based on his prior contacts with the state Legislature as Alaska’s public advocate.
“I think getting the staffing back to where it needs to be will play a huge part in getting the office back to where it needs to be, with crimes and the public,” Allen said.
Chad Holt, OPA’s deputy director, will take over that office until newly appointed Administration Commissioner Leslie Ridle names a replacement.
The following transcript of KTVA’s Wednesday interview with Allen has been edited for length and clarity:
KTVA: Why did you take the job?
Allen: I was intrigued by the opportunity to serve. One of the things about my current job is that I haven’t been in a courtroom, and I kind of missed that…I really feel that the Anchorage district attorney’s position is a chance to combine my courtroom skills with the chance I’ve had to manage a large office, so I’m excited about this opportunity.
KTVA: What are your priorities as district attorney?
Allen: My priority as district attorney of Anchorage has got to be violent crime; we’ve seen an uptick in recent years, and some types of violent crime. [I’m] particularly concerned with homicides in Anchorage – that’s going to be a priority, and I’m really looking forward to building relationships with the community and APD, and I’m really looking forward to tackling that problem.
KTVA: What’s your take on SB 91?
Allen: I will say that I was a supporter of SB 91 and I continue to be a supporter of SB 91, but I readily admit that it’s got some flaws and it’s going to need some tweaks. I think most people realized that when you pass a piece of legislation that large it’s going to need some tweaks, and I think [Sen. John Coghill 's proposed Senate Bill 54] is going to fix a lot of what’s wrong with SB 91, and I hope SB 54 gets some traction with the Legislature.
KTVA: Any particular plans to address opioid-related crime?
Allen: One of the things that SB 91 tries to do is, you know, tries to focus on rehabilitation for drug users. I think it’s still completely appropriate for the state to take a hard line with drug dealers, drug manufacturers, that kind of thing, but I do think this model of being more rehab-focused with regard to drug users makes sense. We should be investing into drug treatment, drug facilities, that kind of thing, and I do think that if we are able to make a dent in the crisis on the drug side we’ll see benefits on the criminal side – I think you’ll see a reduction in crime if we see a reduction in opioid use, so I think if we’re able to reduce one we’ll see a reduction in the other.
KTVA: What would you tell Anchorage residents concerned about crime?
Allen: I think that what you’re seeing now is APD getting their staffing where it needs to be. Our staffing at the DA’s office is down pretty significantly from what it was a few years ago; I think we need to get those numbers back up, so we can pay proper attention to all the cases coming in. Obviously when DA’s offices find themselves short-staffed, they have to make tough decisions about what they’re able to prosecute and what they’re not able to prosecute – and that can be tough if you’re a victim of a crime. I think getting the staffing back to where it needs to be will play a huge part in getting the office back to where it needs to be, with crimes and the public.
KTVA: What assurances, if any, have you received from the Department of Law or Gov. Walker’s office about restoring those resources?
Allen: Nothing definitive…In my role as public advocate I have testified before the Legislature recently; I think there’s a pretty broad understanding among policymakers that you need to have a strong DA’s office to effectively battle crime. That’s just a fact of life.