U.S. Attorney General announces $42 million for rural Alaska public safety

U.S. Attorney General William Barr meets with tribal leaders in Bethel to discuss public safety concerns, May 31, 2019 (KTUU)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced a $42 million grant aimed at improving public safety in rural Alaska over a video conference at the Alaska Federation of Natives in Fairbanks on Thursday afternoon.

“I think it’s very important that as a society we provide safety and ensure the public safety of people who are living where they want to live in the way they want to live in the traditions they want to live by, and not to force people to move into cities simply to be safe,” said Barr, speaking to conference attendees.

Barr, wearing a blue kuspuk that had been gifted to him during his visit to Southwest Alaska earlier this year, sat next to Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan at a conference table in Washington D.C. that was video-streamed to the attendees at the AFN conference.

[RELATED: Justice Department announces plan to address violence in rural Alaska]

“This is really, really, important,” said Sullivan after Barr made the announcement.

Alaska has one of the highest rates of sexual assaults and other violent crimes in the country, but many communities don’t have permanent law enforcement. A recent investigation by Pro Public and Anchorage Daily News found that one in three Alaska communities don’t have any local law enforcement, and that many law enforcement officers in rural Alaska have criminal records.

Sullivan says that he hopes to turn around those numbers.

“I think we need to aim high, I think we need to get back to this goal that a number of us put forward many years ago that every community in Alaska that wants law enforcement and public safety should have that,” said Sullivan.

Among the grants included in the $42 million was $7 million for the Denali Commission to administer a microgrant program for tribes that have not traditionally received federal funding to create and implement "crucial victim’s services."

Barr has already awarded significant grants to help public safety in rural Alaska. After his visit to several villages in May, he declared a Law Enforcement Emergency and awarded $6 million to the state. Barr said that Alaska had developed a process for communities to apply for grants for qualifying infrastructure such as holding cells.

Later, the Department of Justice awarded $4.5 million in funding for 20 officer positions and funding for training.

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