Attorney General Bill Barr vowed to solve the “emergency” situation in western Alaska after traveling throughout the state and talking to locals about the high rates of crime, sexual violence, and the shortage of police.
Barr visited the Alaskan town of Napaskiak with Alaska Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski where he listened to pleas from villagers over the drastic situation their town faces. Napaskiak leaders pleaded with Barr for more federal help in combatting domestic violence, suicides, alcohol-related deaths and more.
“We need help. We may be the poorest people and the neediest people, but we matter,” said village tribal chief Stephen Maxie Jr., according to Anchorage Daily News.
“I understand when you say enough is enough,” Barr told the gathered 75 residents Friday as he promised to do everything in his power to help them. “These problems have been known for a long time. Now we have to try and deliver some solutions.”
While in Alaska, Barr spoke at one of his “fire-side chats” saying he is unconcerned about his reputation in politics. (RELATED: AG Bill Barr Is Not Worried About His Reputation: ‘Everyone Dies’)
The attorney general said that he chose Alaska as the first state to visit since he began his new role because he recognized the significance of Alaska’s needs.
“It would be hard for me to imagine a more vulnerable population,” Barr told reporters, according to Anchorage Daily News.
An investigation conducted by Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica revealed that one-in-three out of about 70 Alaskan communities did not have police protection at some point during the past year. These communities exist in regions with some of the highest rates of poverty, suicide, and sexual assault in the United States, the publication reports.
The investigation found that not only leaders say they lack jail space and police stations, but many villages also cannot afford to pay policemen more than $10 an hour, and thus suffer from constant turnover. The investigation also found that those hired as policemen often have criminal records themselves.
These communities often have no police and suffer from nearly four times as many sex offenders as other communities in U.S., the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Barr met with the two local Napaskiak officers who were only equipped with handcuffs to deal with local crime, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
The officers were 19- and 20-years-old and largely untrained. The attorney general was also shown the village’s wooden jail and told that a fire in the neighboring village had killed inmates who were unable to escape the same type of wooden prison.
Barr visited the Anchorage state crime lab Thursday where he was told about the large amounts of “unprocessed rape kits, textbook-sized collections of notes and DNA samples from victims of sexual assaults for use as evidence in criminal cases,” according to the Anchorage Daily News.
Sometimes plans change and you have to take a military transport plane to your next round-table discussion. Thanks for the lift, @AKNationalGuard! #AdventuresWithAGBarr @TheJusticeDept pic.twitter.com/C46S97Y61T
— KerriKupecDOJ (@KerriKupecDOJ) May 31, 2019
“I’ve heard a number of specific proposals that aren’t necessarily resource intensive. But obviously money is an important part of the solution,” Barr told the Daily News after his tour of the crime lab.
“The important thing is to figure out where we are headed, where those resources are going to be spent and what kind of system they are going to support.”
Barr also visited one of only two women’s shelters in the region where he was briefed on the shortage of funds, housing, and staffing. Women in the shelter are often not able to return to their homes due to lack of funding and thus return to their abusers.
Though Barr did not declare a state of emergency for the Bethel region, as the Napaskiak tribal chief Maxie urged him to do, he did say that the situation is an “emergency” and promised to dedicate his help.
“One thing that impressed me the most is the commitment of the people,” Barr told reporters. “They’re not looking for handouts. They’re looking for their due.”
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