Two state troopers will rotate in two week shifts, giving beefed up law enforcement presence in village wrestling with high rates of drug/alcohol abuse and domestic violence.
By June the village of Togiak should have a state trooper on the ground full time in the village. Last week a delegation of top brass from the Department of Public Safety was in Togiak to inspect the facilities that will be used at the new post.
Audio Transcript: The roughly 800 residents of Togiak are protected by four state troopers a half hour flight away in Dillingham and three law enforcement officers in the village: one city police officer, one tribal police officer, and one village public safety officer. The state has decided to station a blue shirt trooper in the village full time, intending to open the new post by June.
“Togiak needed help. This community has been ravaged by drugs and alcohol, like a lot of rural Alaska,” said Dept. of Public Safety Deputy Commissioner Bill Comer. “We have to prioritize where we put our troopers, so unfortunately we moved one trooper out of Iliamna where we didn’t have the call volume to a place where we anticipate a larger problem.”
The Iliamna post, manned for years by Joe Minnick, closed in 2016. The Lake region, which currently has no village public safety officers, is served by AST Anchorage and King Salmon posts.
On Tuesday Comer led a delegation to Togiak that included AST deputy director Maj. Andy Greenstreet, “C” detachment commander Capt. Barry Wilson, "C" detachment deputy commander Lt. Rick Roberts, and Bristol Bay supervisor Sgt. Luis Nieves.
They were impressed with the facilities the troopers would live in and work from, and the cooperation with leadership in Togiak.
“A community that’s willing to put their troopers inside the school district, and go to great lengths to make them comfortable and give them a very functional office … you know the unsaid message there is that they really want to partner with us," said Comer.
Two troopers will be assigned to Togiak, working in rotating two week shifts. Housing is available downtown by the old school, and the trooper office will be located for now inside the new school.
“I’d like to talk about just how welcome we feel in this community, the support that we’re seeing from the school, and how excited the principal is about us being in the school," said Maj. Greenstreet. "We’re excited about having permanent full time law enforcement here in this community. We’ve been well-received here, and I think it’s going to be a great partnership going forward.”
"C" Detachment deputy commander Lt. Rick Roberts says both of the assigned troopers have served in rural Alaska before, one of them for a time in Bristol Bay.
"I’ve talked to them both personally before they applied for the positions to come to Togiak. We’ve laid out expectations about community involvement in their interactions, and they both seem excited to make that happen," he said.
Eventually the trooper office may be relocated to the old National Guard Armory building. For now it will be in the school, just down the hall from Principal Sam Gosuk.
“It’ll bring more security to the village, and [we'll] probably feel more safety in the village," said Gosuk. "The kids do like to see the troopers, and are excited to ask them questions about themselves whenever one comes in.”
Young kids in the hallways were giving high fives to the visiting trooper brass Tuesday. Gosuk’s school has not been immune to the heroin and meth abuse taking a heavy toll on the village. Drugs and alcohol are one of many challenges he and his teachers wrestle with. Another has been just getting students to school as required. Truancy, like drug and alcohol violations, are state laws troopers can help enforce.
“That’s very important to me because the students, they need to stay out of drugs and alcohol while they’re gaining their education, and with the troopers being here, it’ll help out," Gosuk said. "Hopefully it’ll keep the students more in the school, and getting ready for education in the nighttime by going to sleep earlier.”
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