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Police Conduct Is Questioned at Contentious Nome City Council Meeting

Nome City Council meeting, September 2018

Concerns and allegations over Nome Police Department and City transparency continued at Monday night’s Nome City Council meeting. Councilman Stan Anderson presided in place of the absent Mayor Beneville. The previous meeting had seen more than a half dozen citizens come to the council to express concern with NPD’s hiring, policies, and policing.

Nome resident Trinh Johnson raised the issue of a claim against NPD that she says was never investigated. Details of the claim were brought to the council meeting and copied for the council members. The claim is from a Nome mother who says a police officer had been texting her then-twelve-year-old daughter and taking her on drives in the patrol car. The officer allegedly claimed it was for babysitting.

City Manager Tom Moran said that this case was new and different from one previously investigated upon in May. Last meeting, residents had been told that Katie Tepaz from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) was doing an investigation on NPD, but when Nome citizens called DPS, they were told this was not true. Moran clarified that Tepaz was in town to lead a training, and while in Nome, she did an audit of some NPD cases. She discussed that audit with Moran, and although notes exist, that meeting is not on the record.

A perceived lack of clarity about cases like these led some citizens to express misgivings and diminished faith in their local police. Nome resident and private attorney Nicole Frank was one of the citizens to speak.

“As community members, we don’t know who we can trust and they don’t know what’s going to happen to the information they give… but, it’s especially hard for people here who have had past interactions with law enforcement here that weren’t great. Who can they trust? If they come forward, will something be done? It’s up to you guys to tell them where to go… it’s not my job to come up with an agency for them to call.”

The City had sent out an e-mail on Nome Announce that contained a contact list of numbers for citizens who felt uncomfortable going to NPD. But Frank said that most of those agencies do not serve citizens who have had negative or inappropriate interactions with the police. Frank also noted that there were discussions missing from last City Council meeting’s minutes and that some of the minutes had incorrect information.

Tom Moran stressed that investigations are underway as a result of citizens’ concerns and allegations.

“I promise you that we have eyes from all over looking at us now and all of these allegations that have been made. That’s all I can say, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.”

A few of the speakers mentioned that they felt the responsibility to take initiative for their own public safety. Some mentioned that small steps like body cams on police officers could be a step forward. Nome community member Keith Morrison gave a direct message to the Council:

“The reality of public safety should be the number-one business that you all are in business of doing. Public safety should be number one.”

Concerns like Morrison’s prompted Councilman Jerald Brown to specifically call for plans to immediately begin a commission on public safety that would include a citizen component. Brown requested that a proposal for that be included in the next city council meeting.

Also on the agenda were the first readings and discussion of three ordinances, including an ordinance to limit the sale of liquor products to between the hours of 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. for Nome liquor stores south of 6th Avenue. The ordinance passed to a second reading with all voting “yes” except Councilman Mark Johnson. His concern was that the ordinance limits the ability of local stores to do business. Johnson suggested that there may be other ways to solve the problem, which prompted Councilman Anderson to respond:

“Access to booze is a problem… and I agree with you, it’s drastic… we’re picking on one business, basically, but I don’t see any other way of approaching it.”

Anderson’s comment references the fact that there is currently only one regularly-operating liquor store in Nome south of 6th Avenue.

The ordinance also includes a provision to ban liquor sold in sizes smaller than a liter. Nicole Frank mentioned during citizens’ comments that the Council should check whether or not this ordinance would disproportionately affect one racial demographic; if so, Frank said, the ordinance could be considered discriminatory and unconstitutional.

The council also moved forward with two ordinances regarding procedures to authorize liens. One would allow the city to get municipal money for overdue utility bills when a house is sold or destroyed. The other ordinance would allow for the distraint of personal property by the city.

Robert Estes, the new Chief of Police, will be sworn in September 15. The search for a new City Manager is underway, with the description already posted to two job boards. The next Nome City Council meeting is September 24.

Image at top: Nicole Frank was one of several residents to address the City Council with concerns about NPD and City transparency during the Sep. 10 meeting. Photo: Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM.

Note: Tom Moran is a member of the KNOM Radio Mission Board of Directors.

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