New quarterly reports to detail missing persons cases across Alaska

With Anchorage police, the Department of Public Safety announced the initiative, focused on cases involving Indigenous persons
Published: Aug. 22, 2023 at 8:35 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A new endeavor by Alaskan law enforcement agencies, with the help of advocates of Indigenous peoples, seeks to report and spread more information to help find the missing, especially those of Alaska Native and American Indian descent.

The recent changes – which are focused on missing Indigenous persons – are part of an update to the state’s missing persons database so that cases historical, current and future include information such as race and sex.

The details are being added to the public database known as the Alaska Missing Persons Clearinghouse and follows Gov. Mike Dunleavy, R-Alaska, announcing in 2021 the “People First Initiative,” which included missing and murdered Indigenous people (MMIP) programming provisions.

“The Department of Public Safety sat in on the MMIP as well as the Human Sex Trafficking Councils,” said DPS Communications Director Austin McDaniel, “and one of the recommendations out of the MMIP Council was to help clean up the data that is available publicly.”

DPS and the Anchorage Police Department, the state’s two largest law enforcement agencies, are now also set to release quarterly reports focused on Alaska Native and American Indian individuals. The reports will include those who are listed as being of an unknown race.

“We teamed up together after we had heard from a couple of different community groups – that all support the MMIP effort across the state – that this was data that they all found really challenging to get,” McDaniel explained. “We went through and looked at that to see how we could improve these two or three publicly-available data sources, as well as some internal law enforcement databases, to put that all together in one document to help educate the community, educate Alaskans on how many missing Indigenous persons there are in Alaska.”

There was no additional cost to generate this specific report, McDaniel added, though over the last few years, new investments in DPS have “enabled staff to have more time to put toward efforts like these.”

In the most recent report, which covers April 1, 2023, through June 30, 2023, DPS data shows 437 people were reported missing across all law enforcement agencies in Alaska. Of those, 199 are either Alaska Native or American Indian, or their race hasn’t been designated by authorities.

For cases in which Alaska State Troopers or APD were involved, 33 involve those specific races and the circumstances are considered either suspicious or unknown.

“We hope that with DPS and APD having information at their fingertips, that we see it translate into meaningful action,” said Charlene Apok of Data for Indigenous Justice, “and different policies that are proved and more coordination as well, to improve what’s happening with folks across the state.”

Data for Indigenous Justice has made multiple recommendations to DPS and APD, Apok said, surrounding the crisis of MMIP and what could be changed in the effort to fight it.

“It’s promising to see that they’re making efforts,” Apok said, “to coordinate and connect with one another on these efforts.

“That’s something we’ve been saying as advocates for many years, that we would like to see more law enforcement coordination, and also be working on data together,” she continued, “so the fact they’ve come together to work on this is a good sign.”

The Alaska Missing Persons Clearinghouse will now include the name, sex, race, case number, investigating agency, and date last contacted for every person who goes missing in the state. The public can access a searchable table at the DPS website by clicking here.

“One of the most important things when we do talk about data for missing and murdered Indigenous people is recognizing that these are real lives and real families across our state,” Apok said. “Humanizing the information is incredibly important.

“There’s a difference between having information and utilizing it,” she said. “I hope that the coordination of APD and the Department of Public Safety translates into next steps.”

The Anchorage Police Department said no one was available to speak on camera Tuesday “due to conflicts in scheduling.” In a prepared release sent via email, however, Anchorage Police Chief Michael Kerle emphasized the importance of immediately reporting a possible missing persons case.

“A common misconception is you have to wait 24 hours to report a person missing,” Kerle said. “This is not true. You can report a person missing in Anchorage by calling 911 as soon as you discover the person has gone missing.”

Kerle added that APD takes hundreds of missing persons reports each year, and “every one of those are taken by an officer, investigated, and follow-up conducted by the Homicide Unit.”

It’s also important, Kerle said, to notify law enforcement in the event someone is located so that their missing person status can be cleared. Missing persons are listed as such until they are located by law enforcement.

Read more about the Missing Indigenous Persons report at this link. You can view the report itself here.