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HB 171, the Public Safety Bill, the newest tool to help officers fight crime passes House and will wait in Senate

HB 171 passes house, may have to wait for Senate

Posted: April 13, 2011 - 8:13pm

The Alaska House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday evening that would allow police officers to arrest offenders without a warrant for some assault cases.

House Bill 171, sponsored by Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, would make Alaska the 43rd state to allow exceptions for warrantless arrests.

In her sponsor statement, Muñoz said “We trust peace officers to protect and serve the community, and in certain circumstances barriers are put forth which do not allow peace officers to remove individuals from the scene who bring immediate harm to others. This legislation was brought to my attention at the request of the Juneau Police Department and has received support from police departments across the state.”

Alaska’s law enforcement officers can currently arrest people without a warrant for all felonies, for violating conditions of their release, violating a protective order, driving while intoxicated or violations of court orders, and are required to in certain cases of domestic violence.

“However, not all criminal actions fit into these categories in which quick actions by peace officers are allowed,” Muñoz said in an interview with the Empire.

In cases of certain misdemeanor assaults, a witness would need to sign a citizen’s arrest form before an officer could proceed or a warrant based on probable cause would need to be obtained.

“The Legislature felt that we made a case for (fourth-degree assault), which is generally the kind of assault that is a misdemeanor assault, not as serious as a case such as Part 1 crimes which require stitches or broken bones and that sort of stuff that becomes a felony,” JPD Assistant Chief of Police Page Decker said. “In Alaska law that is a little different. Our assault 4 crimes are generally typical of somebody getting busted in the nose, or their jaw smacked, the bar fights and even a lot of the domestic violence kinds of assaults.”

The bill would also allow police to act when a victim or witness might be reluctant to.

“And then there are the cases where people are afraid to go forward, a witness may have seen or been the victim of an assault,” Decker said. “They don’t want to go forward because they are afraid, and we need the police to be able to have the authority to take action in their stead.”

Decker said the police department had been working toward this for two years.

“It has finally made it through the House and goes to the Senate now,” she said. “I don’t know if there is time to do it in this session but the governor does have an emphasis on these issues.”

Law enforcement officials initially had asked for a broader range of crimes to be included in the warrantless arrest bill, including six other misdemeanor crimes of child abuse, sexual abuse of a minor, reckless endangerment, stalking, custodial interference, and indecent exposure.

The House Judicial Committee narrowed it down to only fourth-degree assault. A special provision in the statutes allows rural police officers to arrest without a warrant with probable cause if located in a rural community 25 miles away from a judicial officer.

House Bill 171, which passed by a vote of 39-1, has been passed to the Senate but is currently not scheduled for a committee hearing. Legislative committees are under a 24-hour rule, meaning they only have to give 24-hour advance notice of a bill coming up for hearing.

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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