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Interim Police Chief Shares Update on New Sexual Assault Cases, Training, and Staff

The Nome Police Department (NPD) saw a 7% increase in calls for service and took 88 cases of reported sexual assaults in 2019. Interim NPD Chief Mike Heintzelman says eight of those cases are still open for investigation.

Some of those could be waiting for additional DNA testing or other work. Upon completion, Heintzelman claims all of those cases are sent to the District Attorney.

“We want to make sure that every call for service is not only documented but investigated. We have historical cases numbering in the hundreds that need to be investigated.”

Heintzelman admits that under the administration of previous police chiefs, there were cases uncovered that hadn’t been properly investigated. Those historical cases came to light when former NPD Chief Bob Estes did an audit of sexual assault cases going back from 2018 to 2006. Part of making sure the investigation gets done, Heintzelman says, is to be more thorough with training and administrative procedures.           

“Every documentation has a police report that is done, and that is done by the officers themselves. Then we have a supervisor on top of that and he makes sure that the appropriate report has been taken. And if it hasn’t, at that point the sergeant would get involved with the individual officer.”

Nome Police officers are now allegedly going through Sexual Assault Response Team training with the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. Heintzelman confirms that NPD officer Alex Le has already completed strangulation training.

But maintaining adequate staffing at NPD still remains an issue. The department has recently hired officers but they’re new to policing. Former investigator Wade “Gray” Harrison was promoted to sergeant in December, but his investigative duties still continue for current cases only. NPD is looking for grants from the Department of Justice to assist in hiring and training needs, including a grant to hire a community policing officer, and potentially half a million dollars in discretionary funds from a DOJ grant for victim advocacy, training, and equipment.

While Chief Heintzelman says he is using his time at NPD to make sure things run “professionally” and improve morale among the staff, he is only an interim chief.

Nome is actively hiring for a new police chief to fill the position left vacant by Estes, a process that now includes the input of the Public Safety Advisory Commission. Heintzelman, the active police chief, confirmed that he has submitted his resume for consideration.

Image at top: Interim Chief Heintzelman wants to improve morale and training at NPD. Photo by Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2020).

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