Press Release

Alaska Supreme Court Rules That Public Safety Protection Services to Rural Alaskan Communities are not Racially Discriminatory

April 15, 2005

(JUNEAU) Today, in a unanimous decision, the Alaska Supreme Court issued a decision affirming a Superior Court ruling that the system employed by the State Department of Public Safety to provide police and other emergency services to rural communities is not racially discriminatory and does not violate state equal protection guarantees.

In Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, et. al. v. State, S-10844 (April 15, 2005), several plaintiffs, including the Alaska Native Villages of Akiachak and Tuluksak, claimed that police protection services to rural communities located off the state's road system were substandard compared to services provided to communities connected by the road system. The plaintiffs raised concerns over access to fully trained police officers and the response time for troopers to reach remote locations within the state. After a two-week trial, the state prevailed on all claims and the case was appealed.

In upholding the lower court's decision the Alaska Supreme Court acknowledged that the state can establish methods for the delivery of police protection that is different for rural and urban locations, in a nondiscriminatory manner. The Court stated on page 45-46 of its opinion:

The state cannot realistically post a trooper in every remote village, and indeed the plaintiffs conceded below that this task is constitutionally unnecessary. It is therefore inevitable that troopers must travel to communities and that their ability to respond in person depends on such neutral and physical considerations as weather, daylight, and distance, and whether the community is accessible by road vehicle, or whether some more problematic form of transportation must be used.

The state supplements the protection provided by the troopers by maintaining a grant program to pay and equip village public safety officers (VPSO) in outlying areas. VPSOs provide police protection and other critical services including fire protection, emergency first aid and search and rescue. VPSOs receive additional support from state troopers who respond to calls for service in outlying areas from hub communities. The Alaska Supreme Court upheld the lower court's determination that the Native Villages did not prove their claims that rural areas are served by an inferior police force.

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