On the road with Alaska's new Pretrial Enforcement Division
You could call them the "Pioneers of Pretrial." As part of the new Pretrial Enforcement Division (PED), supervisor Katie Perry and officer Chris Johnson are doing work that's never been done before in the State of Alaska.
Phase III of Senate Bill 91 went into effect on January 1, 2018, bringing Alaskans the PED, the controversial risk assessment tool and dozens of armed pretrial officers.
"I think that a lot of people that work for the division applied because they were excited about being part of something new," said Perry.
Now, as defendants are released from jail pending trial, judges have the option of assigning them to PED supervision.
"We're trying to protect them from themselves and protect the community at the same time," Perry said during a recent ridealong granted by the Department of Corrections.
A typical day for a PED officer begins with running risk assessments for newly filed cases, then meeting with defendants assigned to an officer's caseload or fieldwork. Fieldwork includes random compliance checks to make sure defendants are where they're supposed to be and following court-ordered conditions of release.
"It's only been three months and we've had a lot of successes-- and some growing pains-- which would be with any new division," said Perry.
She said in Anchorage, the average caseload is 55 defendants per PED officer.
"Our job is one part law enforcement, one part parent and one part social worker," Johnson explained, "Just like any parent, you want them to succeed. Just like any social worker, you want them to rehabilitate and never come back. And as a law enforcement officer, you don't want to arrest the same person over and over again."
But the numbers say that is happening. Between January 1 and April 1, PED completed 4,357 risk assessments, but only 3,382 unique individuals were assessed, meaning 975 assessments were for repeat offenders.
"Every case gets bail, and so these people that keep coming back, I'd rather them be supervised by us then just be able to meet that high bail and run around without us," said Perry.
Perry knows PED is not without its critics.
"Say what you will about Senate Bill 91, I'm not opinions here or there (sic), I sometimes wish that pretrial was not wrapped up in it because I think that a lot of people would look at it differently," said Perry.
Of the 3,382 defendants assessed in the first three months of the year, 1,424 were assigned to PED supervision.
PED Director Geri Fox says roughly 40 of the division's 65 officer positions have been filled.
KTVA's coverage of Pretrial continues Thursday at 6:30 p.m. with a Voices of Alaska special: 'Catch and Release.'
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