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Chief Estes Updates City Council on Nome Police, Says More Personnel Needed

Nome City Council spent nearly six hours discussing a 59- page report from the Nome Police Department (NPD) during a special session on Monday night.

The report came from Chief Bob Estes and covered budgeting, staffing, and service calls dating back to 2005. A portion of the conversation was open to the public while the rest happened in a private executive session because the council said the conversation could have adverse effects on the city’s finances.

Interim City Manager John Handeland estimated:

“The staffing additions the Chief would like would be a little over a million dollars.”

According to the report, Chief Estes says he needs ten officers and two investigators to support officer safety, pro-active policing, less overtime, and better case management. Those numbers don’t include sergeants or a deputy police chief. The report shows NPD desires two sergeants and one deputy chief.

Right now, NPD has only one investigator and seven officers, though two of those officers need to finish training in Sitka. During financial review, city management discovered that the salaries for the investigative positions weren’t actually included in the final approved budget.

“They did include funding for the full-time position benefits. But they did not include, in round numbers, $175,000 for folks’ wages.”

That money would have to be approved by the Council. Full -time investigator Wade “Grey” Harrison’s salary is currently being paid for by funds approved for the vacant sergeant’s position.

Nome has now received 114 sexual assault kits back from testing, 40 of those require further DNA elimination samples which means further investigation and evidence collection will be needed from NPD investigators and officers.

Some Councilmembers, like Mark Johnson, noted that the Council has continuously been increasing funding for the Nome police force. In just one year, from FY 17-18 to FY 18-19, the budget shows an increase of $325,476.

And the Council learned Monday night that five officers with the NPD staff don’t live in Nome full-time. That’s a concern for Councilmember Jennifer Reader.

“I’m sorry if you don’t live in a community how vested are you in a community? It doesn’t bode well for people not to live here where they work and and are supposed to be protective of.”

Officers have been working two full seven-day weeks on and two weeks off, allowing some to use their own money to fly in and out of Nome for work.

The packet for the Council included a detailed breakdown of the number and types of calls the department and individual calls officers respond to. According to the report, which cited Crime Star statistics, in 2018, 49% of calls for service in Nome were alcohol related.

The public part of Monday’s special session ended with more questions from the City Council. Councilmember Jerald Brown wondered whether the Department of Justice or FBI ever audited the police department, as was requested in a joint letter from the City and Kawerak last year.

“It’d just be nice if we could get some confirmation that somebody is working or looking at something.”

Handeland agreed that it would be good to hear a response and that the City could inquire with the Department of Justice and or the FBI again. Councilmember Meghan Topkok confirmed that Kawerak’s President Melanie Bahnke had recently followed up, as well but had not yet received a response.

After hearing citizens comments, the Council moved into executive session but took no further action Monday night.

Image at top: Police Chief Bob Estes Updates City Council on NPD Matters. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2019).

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