Public safety commissioner to leave post

Posted: Thursday, August 10, 2000

The state's top cop is stepping down.

Ron Otte, commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety, announced Wednesday he is resigning to spend more time with his family in Anchorage.

A replacement is expected to be named before Otte's last day toward the end of the month, said Bob King, a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles.

``I don't want to leave,'' Otte said in a telephone interview from Anchorage. But his wife has a career in Anchorage, and they've lived separately since he joined the Knowles' cabinet six years ago, he said.

``It's just a very difficult way to live, and after six years we've just decided it's time to put our lives back together, and if there was another way to do it I would,'' he said. ``I love the job, I love the department, and it was probably one of the most difficult decisions I've ever had to make.''

Otte, Knowles' first cabinet appointment after he was elected in 1994, served as Anchorage's police chief when Knowles was the city's mayor.

``Ron Otte has served Alaska for six years with honor and distinction, taking the lead on some of our most challenging issues such as child protection, domestic violence and drunk drivers,'' Knowles said in a news release.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Eldon Mulder said Otte's departure is a real loss for the Knowles' administration. The commissioner was well respected in the Legislature for his candor and for his insight into Alaska's public safety needs, Mulder said.

Otte's friendship with Speaker of the House Brian Porter, also a former Anchorage police chief, and his familiarity with other Anchorage legislators gave him entree into legislative offices other commissioners did not have, Mulder said.

Anchorage Republican Sen. Sean Parnell, who headed the committee that set the department's budget for several years, attributed Otte's rapport to his honest, straightforward manner.

``He never once told us something that we found out to be untrue,'' Parnell said. ``And Commissioner Otte took the time to get to know legislators and speak to them personally, rather than relying on agency personnel to talk to legislators. He had a real hands-on approach to leadership, which worked well.''

Otte said he felt good about the work he and his department were able to do on the Knowles' administration's Smart Start initiative, which called for spending more money on child abuse prevention, children's health care and early childhood development programs such as Head Start.

There is a correlation between childhood abuse, neglect and similar problems and criminal behavior in later life, he said.

``The cops are out there saying, `Look, we want a long-term solution to crime and this is what it is,''' Otte said. ``I think people have listened. ... I think the Legislature has provided funding for a lot of things that will probably make a difference down the road.''

He also pointed to certification of the state's crime laboratory as an accomplishment. Alaska's lab was one of the first in the country to meet the high standards established several years ago for certification, he said.

His biggest frustration has been the loss of trooper positions because the department's budget hasn't kept pace with the cost of doing business, he said.

The department has lost probably 75 troopers in the last 15 years, he said, and has gone from 241 to 237 since he took over.

Otte, 57, said he doesn't have another job lined up, but he doesn't plan to retire.

He is the second commissioner in two months to announce he's leaving to be closer to family in Anchorage. Department of Natural Resources Commissioner John Shively announced in July that he's leaving in September. No replacement has been named for Shively.

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