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Alaska law enforcement officers see highest rate of assaults in the US

A report that analyzed FBI data states that 64.6% of law enforcement officers in Alaska were assaulted while on duty in 2020, the highest rate in the nation.
Published: Mar. 4, 2022 at 7:51 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The FBI has released statistics for law enforcement officers being assaulted or killed on the job, and according to that data Alaska is top of the list when it comes to assaults while on duty.

A report that analyzed FBI data states that 64.6% of law enforcement officers in Alaska were assaulted while on duty in 2020, the highest rate in the nation. Officials for both the Anchorage Police Department and Alaska State Troopers say that due to lack of staffing, they are not surprised.

Officers with the Anchorage police and the troopers recognize that the job is dangerous, and while they aren’t surprised by the numbers, both departments are doing everything they can to reduce them.

For the Anchorage Police Department, the hiring process takes six months, and that is before potential officers go to the academy. Recruits go through hundreds of hours of defensive tactics and verbal de-escalation exercises to prepare them to be out in the street, and then four months of field training where they work alongside an experienced officer.

Sgt. James Cockrell, commissioner for the Alaska Department of Public Safety, said that budget cuts back in 2015 caused the state troopers to lose 10% of staff and they haven’t recovered since. This plays heavily into the high number of assaults, he said, because often times they are forced to send officers out alone on a call. Currently, the Department of Public Safety is working to increase funding for recruiting efforts.

“We’re currently in the process of trying to get body cameras. That’s a priority of the department,” Cockrell said. “We’ve asked for an appropriation of $3.6 million through the Legislature that hopefully, we think we’ve got really good support for, and then we just received a federal grant of $938,000.”

Body cameras have been a topic of conversation for some time in Anchorage. Jeremy Conkling, the president of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association, says video evidence could have a better impact in court.

“It’s one thing to read a report, it’s one thing to hear the officer testify to it. It’s another thing to hear the audio,” begins Conkling. “But when you see all of that in combination with the video, I think that’s really telling.”

However, he said data has shown that the presence of body-worn cameras “don’t really reduce the amount of violent assaults on police officers.”

“What we do see is it causes police officers, at least initially, to pause and to sometimes react a little bit slower than they should be reacting when faced with a violent encounter,” Conkling said.

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