The new state commissioner of public safety says his department is underfunded by at least $10 million.
Glenn Godfrey, director of the Alaska State Troopers for five-and-a-half years, assumed his new position in the cabinet of Gov. Tony Knowles upon his appointment Wednesday. He replaces Ron Otte, who resigned to spend more time with his family.
Godfrey, who might be the first Native to hold the position, said he will meet with Knowles on Monday to talk about the future of the Department of Public Safety. Godfrey said it's clear the department has too few troopers and fish and wildlife officers. There are now 237 "blue shirt" troopers and about 90 officers enforcing fish and game regulations.
"I could easily use another 50 to 75 troopers throughout the state, just in the blue shirts alone, and probably easily another 50 in the brown shirts," Godfrey said.
With salaries, benefits and new vehicles and weapons, the cost for each additional position would be between $100,000 and $125,000 a year, Godfrey said. So adding at least 100 positions to achieve his optimal staffing level would cost $10 million or more. The department's annual budget is $99 million, he said.
A 10 percent increase would go against the grain of recent budget cuts by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Troopers aren't able to respond as quickly as they would like in rural areas of the state where they can be the only police presence, Godfrey said. "It certainly taxes troopers on the front line in getting the job done. ... We're being asked to do more with less."
He said he'll invite legislators out into the field to watch search-and-rescue operations and other work performed by the troopers.
"I think we have an obligation to the Legislature to show them what our needs are," he said.
Godfrey, 51, served 30 years with the Alaska State Troopers. He did two stints in Juneau in the 1970s for a total of about five years.
Later, in Bethel, he helped develop the troopers' Village Public Safety Officer program. The unarmed officers operate under the authority of the troopers and are intended to fill a gap in law enforcement in the Bush. The program was cited by the Alaska Federation of Natives in awarding Godfrey its Citizen of the Year Award in 1999.
But the number of officers has dropped from a peak of 124 to about the mid-80s, due to low pay, burnout and complications with enforcing the law in small villages where many of the officers grew up, Godfrey said. Meanwhile, the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council and 10 western villages are suing the DPS over the way law enforcement dollars are allocated.
Godfrey said he will be looking for an apartment in Juneau but will maintain his primary residence in Anchorage.
"The commissioner's office per se isn't moving up to Anchorage," but he will need to travel to trooper posts throughout the state prior to the 2001 legislative session, he said.