Mayor Beneville Pushes for Public Safety Commissions To Form Across the State

The Alaska Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution in support of public safety advisory commissions at their last meeting in November. During this year’s session, Mayor Richard Beneville of Nome was elected Chairman of the conference of mayors.

That meeting is a part of the Alaska Municipal League (AML) Conference.

To keep the state focused on public safety, Beneville put forth a resolution encouraging local governments to develop public safety advisory commissions. Western Alaska, he notes, particularly faces extraordinarily high rates of domestic and sexual violence, although its not just a regional challenge.

“This is a huge issue, in the villages as well as in Western Alaska generally, and in the state. It’s a black eye on the state of Alaska!”

The resolution does not obligate any municipality to create a commission, but Beneville says it does cite language from Nome’s ordinance to be used as a potential model.

“It’s a suggestion in letting them know that if they want to, they can probably look at their ordinances and see what they can do to help because we’re not, again, not the only community in Alaska that suffers these extraordinarily high numbers about a very sensitive and very important issue.”

Other municipalities have their own versions of public safety commissions, but Nome’s commission is unique compared to others in the state. The public safety group in Nome can hear citizens concerns about officer conduct or policy. Commissioners are trained in trauma-informed interview skills to better understand and advocate for citizens who might seek their help.

Justin Noffsker, one of the nine members of the Nome public safety advisory commission, says that keeping the local police department accountable is only a fraction of what they’re tasked to do.

“Definitely beneficial for other communities, not just for oversight, but also to help the public safety get the resources and funds they need to carry out their missions accordingly.” 

AML President Nils Andreassen confirms that the 26 voting mayors of the conference voted in favor of Beneville’s resolution for public safety commissions.

Image at top: Members of Nome’s public safety commission, from left to right: Carol Piscoya (Deputy Chair), Irvin Barnes (Chair), and Traci McGarry. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2019).