A new signature will now appear on the law enforcement certificates that are required of every officer in the state of Alaska.
Former Skagway police chief Dave Sexton, who has about 30 years experience in law enforcement, was recently approved by the governor and the Department of Public Safety commissioner as the new executive director of the Alaska Police Standards Council.
The council is in charge of certifying and de-certifying all the sworn officers in the state, as well as providing training to maintain standards of law enforcement performance.
Sexton has just been on the job for about three months, but says the certification process is a task that is neat on a couple of fronts.
“By certifying officers, we’re doing two things,” he said in an interview at his office in downtown Juneau. “We’re telling the public that the officers in your town are well-trained and responsible and morally upright and able to do the job and you can trust them. And when I sign a certificate and send it off, that’s kind of what I’m saying.”
The other side of that, he says, is letting police officers know that they are capable of doing the job. New police officers who have no prior training can receive their basic certificates from the 15-week DPS Alaska Law Enforcement Training Academy in Sitka, or at the academy in Fairbanks. Officers with prior training, but new to Alaska, are required to attend a two-week re-certification academy, or lateral academy, to learn Alaska law.
“I think my signature on those certificates also tells the officer that we have trained you so you know what to do, and you have the skills, you have the ability and you have the knowledge to go out there, so we’re not sending them out there ill-equipped,” Sexton said.
There are about 3,000 sworn officers and administrators in the state, Sexton said.
“About half of those are cops, and about half of them are corrections or parole people,” Sexton said.
Usually, just under 100 people are certified annually after completing one of the academies.
On a more day-to-day basis, Sexton is in charge of providing funding for new equipment and training. The council receives more than dozen funding requests each month from departments across the state that either want to send their officers out of state for training, or to have the training come to them.
Between equipment and training, the council spends a couple hundred thousand dollars annually, Sexton ball-parked.
“It’s not cheap, but luckily we do it without costing the state anything,” he said.
He explained that while the council is under the DPS umbrella, the council does not rely on the state for money and that they are funded entirely by surcharges tacked on to criminal cases, citations and tickets.
“We do not operate on a dime of state money,” he said.
The council funds special training courses all over the state on a range of different issues. This month, for example, there was surveillance detection and suspicious behavior training held in Anchorage as well as a course on interrogation and interview techniques. A course on how to respond to a terrorist bombing will be held in Fairbanks in May, and tourism-oriented policing to be held in Juneau next month.
“You dump 10,000 people in a place like Juneau or Ketchikan or heaven forbid Skagway, and it’s quite the impact, so we do training on that,” Sexton said.
Listing priorities for the rest of the year, Sexton said he’d like to do a better job of providing for mid- and upper-level management and supervisory jobs.
“I think we can do a lot better on our mid-level and upper-level training,” he said. “We do really good on the basic stuff, we’re able to train our basic officers, we’re able to keep them trained. I’m not sure we’re training our mid-level supervisors and our upper-management as well as we could, so I’d like to either get them out — there’s some wonderful small agency administration classes going on out there — I’d like to either get people out to those or get those up here for our people to go to.”
Another personal goal is to try to provide more training and opportunities to smaller departments in the bush and in the outlying communities in the villages in the Southeast.
“It’s expensive, it’s hard to do,” he said. “I was just in Klawock (on Prince of Wales Island) a couple of weeks ago, and they would love to get out to some stuff, but it’s a two guy department. So one guy can’t be gone for very long out to training and leave the other guy all by himself. So either we need to get training down to them or at least close enough to them that they can get to it and still meet their coverage needs, and that’s true all over in our little departments.”
“There’s different things we can do, but we really want to not forget the little places,” he said.
Sexton has been a police chief for about half of the 30 years he’s been in law enforcement. He was the Skagway chief of police for about 11 years and retired in 1999. Since then, he’s taught criminal justice part-time and full-time at colleges in California, Oregon and Washington, and he’s worked in the security industry for private companies.
“I have been so fortunate,” he said. “I’ve had the luckiest career. I’ve always got to work in towns were everybody else wants to vacation.”
He added that his new job with the council is a chance to do important work.
“It’s a chance to be creative and think outside the box and fund some neat programs, and bring some neat programs in here,” he said. “It’s a job that I can really run with and a good way to help the departments in the state.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.