In an effort to meet the public’s demand for improved public safety and policing, the Nome City Council approved over $250,000 in extra funding for Nome Police Department during Monday night’s regular meeting.
The Council’s discussion on FY 2020 budget amendments for NPD included funding to hire a second investigator.
“And that investigator, he or she will primarily deal with the cold case files.”– City Manager, Glenn Steckman
City Manager Glenn Steckman lamented over the way assault cases may have been handled by NPD in the past but commended the Council and Interim Police Chief Mike Heintzelman for what he described as “progress”. Last year, former NPD Police Chief Bob Estes began an audit of 460 sexual assault cases going back to 2005 but the department says they have been unable to complete it due to a lack of proper staffing and skilled investigators.
Chief Heintzelman told KNOM after the meeting that he needs a very experienced investigator to handle the new role and that right now, despite internal interest, there are no qualified NPD officers to step up to the plate.
Councilmember Jerald Brown noted that the increase in money for the police’s budget amendment is up about $600,000 from the FY’19 actual budget.
“I think that reflects the desire of Council over the past couple of years to enhance the police department so we can take care of some of the cold case files and keep current on the new ones.”
City Manager Glenn Steckman says some of the numbers in the original budget were insufficient, like budgeting for police overtime which had to be amended by $90,000. The newly amended NPD budget is now $3,098,840.88, up by $266,391.88 from the originally approved FY 2020 budget.
The Council has received multiple letters over the past few months asking them to provide NPD with more support, the most recent coming from the Nome Eskimo Community who offered to directly provide support to NPD. The City did not take action on that offer last night, rather, Manager Steckman said that they are cutting other available areas of the City budget to provide more adequately for Nome Police. Steckman did say that NPD is looking at more tribal partnerships, such as a grant application with Kawerak. That revelation garnered praise from Councilmember Meghan Siġvanna Topkok.
“I know that’s something I’ve kind of noticed is a big difference and I appreciate because I know that’s kind of an underutilized funding source. It can’t be the ‘end -all be- all’ and I know funding is finite and time runs out on them but I’m just glad to hear that it’s happening.”
She also shared support for Manager Steckman’s planned efforts to do more cultural and sexual harassment training for City of Nome employees.
Manager Steckman also shared that the Public Safety Advisory Commission will be meeting this Saturday to interview applicants for the vacant Police Chief position. The City will be interviewing Finance Director applicants this week to fill that vacancy.
Also included in last night’s approved budget amendment was $1 million for the Port of Nome to cover emergency repairs to the West Gold Dock that were made earlier in the fiscal year. Under new business, the Council moved the proposed ordinance for the Port of Nome tariff change onto a second reading.
They also heard from the director of the Nome Local Emergency Planning Committee Tom Vaden during citizen’s comments. He informed them of two upcoming tabletop exercises: one for a 100-year storm exercise and another for an active shooter. The LEPC pays the City of Nome for utilities to use the Emergency Operations Center at the public safety building, and Vaden suggested that the LEPC could instead use that money to upgrade the center.
“We are working at getting a world-class emergency operations center because when bad things start happening in the Arctic they’re going to come knocking on our door and go, ‘What do you got for us to use?’ because we’re going to be the people around. We’re the civilized place that has power and stuff like that, they’re not going to set up stuff in the middle of a storm someplace.”
Manager Steckman says it is unclear who has the priority for the facility but agrees that Nome needs a top-class emergency operations center. Many of the LEPC demands for equipment, he says, are being addressed in the City’s recent grant request from the Department of Homeland Security.
Mayor Richard Beneville did not attend the meeting but has returned to Nome. He is reportedly doing physical therapy and is in high spirits. Manager Steckman said they are, “getting him ready for Iditarod.”
In addition to Monday night’s regular meeting, the Council met in a work session to discuss FY 2021 budget priorities and a potential plastic bag ban in Nome. The Council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for March 9th.
Image at top: Councilmembers Meghan Topkok and Doug Johnson take notes during the City Council’s conversation on FY 2020 budget amendments Monday night. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2020).