FAIRBANKS — Village Public Safety Officer Sergeant Jody Potts challenged government officials, tribal leaders and the Alaska Federation of Natives delegation to work toward improving public safety in rural Alaska on Friday afternoon at the Carlson Center.
With charts displayed on the projection screen, Potts showed how crime rates in rural Alaska are often more than 10 percent per capita, while crime rates in Fairbanks and Anchorage are at .7 percent and .8 percent, respectively.
“We should be outraged by this,” Potts said. “This should be something that strikes us and we should all want to do something about.”
Potts said there is no data for the many crimes that go unreported.
“Drug and alcohol abuse and violence have become the norm,” Potts said. “I know as a people we can be better than this.”
Potts said one of the biggest challenges facing villages is the absence of law enforcement officials. Potts oversees an area of Interior Alaska that is nearly the size of Texas, and she has only 14 VPS officers to work with. Meanwhile, there are 30 villages in her area without a VPS officer present.
“I challenge our leadership at the state government to take a better look at how they will treat rural Alaska in regards to public safety,” Potts said.
Potts recalled a recent incident in which a knife fight broke out at a party, and children helped carry the wounded victim to a health clinic.
“When we have children acting in the capacity of first responders — that is a serious problem,” Potts said, to illustrate the need for law enforcement personnel.
“We need to use our tribal courts,” Potts said. “We need to let our traditional values guide us into the future.”
Potts also called for villages to get away from the “snitches get stitches” culture.
“We have to get away from chastising and shaming our victims. We can no longer rally around our perpetrators,” Potts said as the convention erupted with clapping. “Leaders, you have been chosen to bring our people into the future.”
Potts said more VPS officers would help tremendously, but funding is one of the largest obstacles, as well as recruiting, since it is one of the toughest jobs in the state.
Tammi Truett Jerue, executive director of the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, spoke out against sexual assault and domestic violence specifically.
“This is a serious issue in our state,” Truett Jerue said. “Our Native people are being targeted, and it’s happening to our woman, our children and our men.”
Truett Jerue said the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center advocates for villages to develop their own responses to sexual and domestic violence, because law enforcement is often absent.
The Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center has been operating for three years, and Truett Jerue announced that the center recently was funded and she hopes the resource center will be able to accomplish more in the future.
Contact staff writer Kevin Baird at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcity.