Begich reveals plan to address Alaska crime
Democratic challenger Mark Begich on Friday unveiled his plan to fight Alaska’s onslaught of crime, touting his previous record as Anchorage mayor.
The former U.S. senator outlined his plan in front of the Nesbett Courthouse, reminding those attending how state budget cuts led court closures each Friday afternoon.
Begich's plan features the following:
* Addressing the state’s opioid epidemic
* Using state revenue sharing to support local police
* Fully staffing the Departments of Public Safety, Law and Corrections
* Establishing partnerships with federal prosecutors
* Coordinating state and local government efforts
* Bolster public safety in rural communities
"There has been a systemic failure on the state level to address the exploding opioid epidemic and increasing crime within our communities that has led Alaska to be ranked No. 1 for crime nationwide – this is unacceptable,” Begich said in a prepared statement. “When I was mayor of Anchorage, my administration cracked down on crime - adding more than 80 police officers as well as two prosecutors to the U.S. Attorney’s office who were part of a strategic effort to get drug dealers, gang members, and violent criminals behind bars and off our streets.”
Initiatives mentioned in the plan range from eliminating six-month waitlists for substance-abuse treatment to modernizing state recruitment, improving communications between state and local law enforcement, and using compacts with the state to expand the role of tribal courts.
Incumbent Gov. Bill Walker has a “Safer Alaska” initiative which incorporates some of Begich’s ideas under its Public Safety Action Plan. Lawmakers began reworking Senate Bill 91 just months after it passed two years ago. Critics called it too lenient, citing one since-repealed section that potentially allowed offenders to be repeatedly released.
Begich criticized the debate over SB91, saying "it’s time to look at the larger picture here.”
"Everyone wants to be tough on crime -- so pass a bill, get a title, sound good, put it in your brochure," Begich said. "And then, at the end of the day, as a mayor, as a governor, you have to implement that. And somewhere the system failed to say there is no ability to implement this in the right way if that’s what you're trying to deal with this."
In his remarks, Begich laid part of the blame on the people who passed the bill.
“It’s amazing the amnesia that has set into those legislators and others," Begich said. "They were all for it and now they’re all against it because they didn’t think long-term. They didn’t think of a comprehensive approach to dealing with public safety. They thought they could throw a magic bullet out there and assume it’s all solved. And they failed to do that."
Some of Begich's points, particularly those on substance abuse, mirror elements of SB91.
“The goal is to take people who are dealing with substance abuse or mental health issues, that end up in some situation that might be a petty theft," Begich said. "We gotta do things like wellness courts, therapeutic courts, move them on the right track.”
“When I was mayor, everyone said when I started, ’Oh, there's going to be no money.’ We made it a priority because it was a priority for the community. If we believe public safety is a priority then the legislature-- Democratic, Republican-- need to get on board.”
He also said that while his comprehensive plan may take more resources, there is also money that’s been allocated that isn’t being spent.
“Just filling the unfilled positions is a critical need in our system. There are 40 state trooper positions funded but not filled; 20 in the law department; 20 in the Seward prison that need to be filled that are funded. We have to have a different way to recruit and go after those folks.”
KTVA reached out to Mead Treadwell, Mike Dunleavy and Gov. Bill Walker for a response to Begich's crime plan. Only Treadwell responded:
"Mark laid out a crime plan. I've been calling for the repeal of SB91 since I got into the race. I will tell you Mike Dunleavy voted for it before he voted against it. When Mia Costello had a bill to repeal it, he didn't sign on and he quit the Senate before they had a chance to amend it. Mark Begich didn't even call for a repeal to SB91 today and I was really astounded."
A number of guests spoke in favor of Begich’s initiative Friday including former APD captain and Soldotna police chief Shirley Cote; Rosalie Nadeau, the former CEO of substance-abuse treatment provider AKEELA; and Alaska Correctional Officers Association president Randy McLellan.
Scott Jensen, Lauren Maxwell and Steve Quinn contributed information to this story.