Governor nominates Col. James Cockrell as public safety commissioner

Retired Alaska State Trooper Col. James Cockrell addresses the public during a press briefing...
Retired Alaska State Trooper Col. James Cockrell addresses the public during a press briefing hosted by Gov. Michael Dunleavey in Kenai on Tuesday morning.(Jill Burke)
Published: Apr. 6, 2021 at 10:49 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Retired Alaska State Trooper Col. James Cockrell will potentially take the helm at the Alaska Department of Safety.

“I am really humbled to be in this position right now,” Cockrell said. “I hope I can hang my hat up and know that I’ve made a positive difference.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Cockrell’s nomination for public safety commissioner Tuesday at the visitor’s center in Kenai, a coastal city of approximately 7,000 people located about a three-hour drive southwest of Anchorage.

“We are all very hopeful that Jim Cockrell is going to help lead this department to the next stage,” said Dunleavy.

The son of an Alaska State Trooper, Cockrell began his own nearly 30-year career with the troopers in 1983. Cockrell retired in 2007, then came back in 2013 to serve as the director of the Alaska State Wildlife Troopers. In 2014, he was appointed as director for the Division of Alaska State Troopers, a position he held until his resignation in 2017.

Cockrell’s nomination comes after the departure of former Commissioner Amanda Price, who abruptly resigned in early February. Price, the only woman to hold the position, did not go quietly. In a scathing criticism, Price accused the governor of forcing her out after she demoted the director of wildlife troopers in what she called a “personnel decision.” She also said she clashed with the governor about proposed reforms to the state’s 9-1-1 system.

The governor repeatedly declined to discuss Price’s resignation or what prompted it.

On Friday, four days before the governor made Cockrell’s appointment public, Price congratulated Cockrell. In an April 2 post to Facebook, she wrote “I understand that former colonel of the Alaska State Troopers Jim Cockrell has been named as Commissioner for DPS. I wish Jim a warm congratulations and great success!”

Price’s statement is a show of support for a man who, two years earlier, supported her appointment to the post he may be assuming.

In Jan. 2019, Cockrell supported Price’s appointment in testimony before the Alaska legislature. Cockrell told a joint meeting of the senate judiciary and state affairs committees that he was “confident that she’ll provide the direction, the passion, the energy that’s needed in the job,” adding that he “would be proud to work for her.”

Over the years Cockrell has dealt with staffing shortages, leading to conflicts about how much trooper support the department should provide within the boundaries of local communities that have their own policing. In one such example, in 2015 and 2016, troopers clashed with the municipality of Anchorage about whether Anchorage police, or Alaska State Troopers, should police the highway near Girdwood.

In a 2017 interview with Alaska’s News Source, Cockrell expressed concerns over the safety of troopers, whom he said were increasingly confronting individuals in one-on-one situations. It’s in those situations, especially when contact is made with “high-risk criminals,” in which individuals are more apt to fight with a trooper, he said at the time.

Cockrell has also previously supported the use of body cameras, has not yet been implemented by Alaska State Troopers or the Anchorage Police Department, and has advocated for rural communities to have adequate trooper presence.

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