Since late October, KNOM has reported on four incidents in which Alaska State Troopers responded to a community in the Bering Strait region but did not post an online public dispatch afterwards.
Two of those incidents without dispatches involved missing persons with accompanying search and rescue missions, another involved the discovery of human remains, and the last involved a fatal drowning. The Department of Public Safety (DPS) runs a public web-page listing trooper activity from communities around the state.
In an e-mail to KNOM, DPS Spokesperson Tim DeSpain explained that the AST daily dispatch page is meant to be “essentially a trooper blotter” that can be used as a resource for both media and the public to learn of activities that could be of public concern.
DeSpain writes there are a variety of reasons as to why an incident wouldn’t be entered into a public dispatch. One of those reasons, he wrote, is trooper workload.
Troopers at the Nome post confirmed they have been short-staffed this fall. On November 21st there was only one trooper manning both the Nome and Unalakleet posts. Trooper Aileen Witrosky says a full-staff should be five troopers in Nome and two in Unalakleet. As of December 2nd, Trooper Witrosky says there are three troopers working at the Nome post but in February they expect another.
One vacancy in Unalakleet was filled in November; leaving only one open trooper position at that post, for now. Both Unalakleet spots were vacant in October. Witrosky says troopers work a two-weeks on and two-weeks off schedule.
According to the DPS website, the Nome post alone covers an area about the size of West Virginia, not including St. Lawrence Island and Diomede, which are also under the Nome post’s jurisdiction.
DeSpain writes that DPS intends to “provide the timely release of information through this online tool” but community members like Danielle Topkok of the Teller Search and Rescue have shared concerns with KNOM that information isn’t being made public in a timely manner. She says having dispatches readily available helps them get more searchers and assist more quickly; in search and rescues, time can be a matter of life and death.
For example, a recent search and rescue mission for a Brevig Mission man who went missing, and was later discovered deceased, never received a public posting.
In the case of a missing man from Elim, a missing person bulletin was issued by AST but no public dispatch was put online. Troopers posted a dispatch for response to a drowning in Gambell after being contacted by KNOM. KNOM contacted AST about that incident on October 23rd and a public dispatch was subsequently posted. The incident was originally reported on October 15th.
DeSpain encourages anyone with a question about an incident, posted to the online dispatch or not, to reach out to the DPS Public Information Office.
Image at top: The Nome AST Post, which is housed in the old Alaska Armory building on Front Street. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2019).