Over a year into its existence, the Nome Public Safety Advisory Commission (PSAC) is encountering challenges in fulfilling its duties, as outlined by City ordinance.
They failed to make quorum and hold a meeting for this month on November 1st. The nine-member commission was scheduled to review Nome Police Department’s use of force and sexual assault policies, but instead will have to wait until their next meeting in December.
The Nov. 1st meeting did not proceed as intended because only four commission members were in attendance. Those that were present for the meeting were Lisa Ellanna, Carol Piscoya, Andrew Miller Jr., and Traci McGarry. Those not in attendance were Jana Hoggan, Justin Noffsker, Ivory Okleasik, Irvin Barnes, and Maureen Koezuna. Barnes and Koezuna terms on the commission have expired, but the city is working to fill these positions.
Ellanna has since resigned from the commission, which she announced during the latest Nome City Council meeting.
“At the last public safety commission meeting in October we made a motion, voted, and the motion unanimously passed that the commission be allowed to review the existing NPD policies on use of force and sexual assault response. Unfortunately, at Monday’s meeting, we did not have quorum, but entered into an informal conversation. During our brief conversation we were informed by Glenn Steckman that he made an executive decision to not make those policies available for the commission to review as was requested via unanimous vote.”– Lisa Ellanna
Requests on the review of NPD’s use of force and sexual assault policies have been on-going since May 2018 before the Public Safety Advisory Commission was even created. During a public City Council meeting that month, a group of citizen advocates, including Ellanna, called for more transparency and accountability from the Nome Police. As a result, the commission was later established in September, 2019.
In June  discussions about police policy review flared again after public demonstrations were held across the country decrying excessive force used by police on Black Americans.
Ellanna points out that the Nome commission is being barred by the city on what it set out to accomplish.
“The commission was created to challenge the pattern and practice of inequitable treatment of Alaskan Native victims of violence and sexual violence by the Nome police department, and to make positive policy changes to ensure that it does not happen again. The message that the administration sends by obstructive behavior is that we still do not matter.”– Lisa Ellanna
Nome’s City Manager Glenn Steckman confirmed with KNOM that the Public Safety Advisory Commission did not hold a meeting this month, but if they had, they would not have reviewed NPD’s policies as requested.
“What we had sent out to them previously before the meeting was the current AST document.”– Glenn Steckman
Steckman is referring to a five-page portion of Alaska State Troopers’ use of force policy. It is unclear if AST’s policy is the current standard being used by Nome Police, but still this document is separate from Nome’s use of force policy, which received the unanimous vote to be reviewed in the October PSAC meeting. Steckman also notes that Nome’s newest officers are familiar with this AST policy as they have received training from Alaska State Troopers.
“We sure they’re being trained on the current requirements of Alaska State Troopers because that is their academy we use.”– Glenn Steckman
With Ellanna’s resignation, the Nome City Council and Mayor John Handeland are responsible for filling her vacancy along with Irvin Barnes’ expired seat. The Common Council filled Maureen Koezuna’s seat during their regular meeting on Monday November 9th.
The Public Safety Advisory Commission is scheduled to meet next on December 7th.
Image at top: Speakers address a crowd outside Nome’s Public Safety Building during a recent march. Photo from JoJo Phillips, KNOM (2020).