CONCERNED—Many women attended a work session with the City administration to declare a need to work with the City and other agencies to address crimes of sex assault and domestic violence in the Nome area. A group took the podium to take turns reading a proposed resolution: (left to right) Lisa Ellanna, Niviaaluk Brandt, LaVerne Ashenfelter (at podium), Tehya Tucker, Panganga Pungowiyi and Darlene Trigg.

City hires investigator for rape and domestic violence cases

At the meeting May 14, Nome Common Council considered a resolution supporting Alaska Native victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes.
However, the Council postponed a vote and passage in response to a group of women who thanked the City for bringing forth the resolution, but urged staff and Council to reword some phrases that felt like victim shaming, the women said. There will be work sessions to hash out the language.
The measure spells the City’s response to a work session last week in which a support group comprising mostly women packed City Hall to air feelings that violence and sexual assaults against Alaska Natives do not receive sufficient response from law enforcement.
Her daughter had chosen to live elsewhere because she did not feel safe in Nome, Bertha Koweluk told councilmembers and planning commissioners at a May 7 work session. “We wanted to raise our children here. I’m going to stay here.  I’m going to fight,” she said.
The City has hired an investigator to help clear a backlog of rape and domestic violence cases.
Most recent census data indicates that 58 percent of Nome’s population identifies as Alaska Native.
The women delivered a document comprising 15 “whereas” items and suggested measures they felt would improve the situation.
The resolution states that the Council supports justice for Alaska Native victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes. Further, the resolution states the Council’s support for the Nome Police Dept. in its efforts to serve the entire community with respect, dignity, compassion and justice.
The resolution recognizes the City has an unfilled investigator position that could assist with closure of unsettled sexual assault complaints. The City’s resolution also acknowledges that short staffing and patrol vacancies have caused it to avoid sending personnel out for grant-funded training and staffing opportunities, which could no longer continue.
Tom Moran, city manager, said Friday that a NPD would resume sending a designated employee, whether on-duty or off-duty to attend monthly Multi-Disciplinary Team meetings at Kawerak, Inc.’s Child Advocacy Center.  
Additionally, Moran and NPD have retained former police investigator Joe Dickerson on a part-time basis to work cold cases concerning sex assault or domestic violence. Dickerson currently works for the Alaska Army National Guard.
However, “he knows the Nome Police Dept. and is certified through the academy in Sitka,” Moran said.
It turns out that a backlog of rape kits exists because the state crime lab is backed up with cases. NPD has cases that have not been submitted to the lab because the “crime lab has asked us not to send them,” NPD Chief John Papasodora said.
The lab has received $2.5 million from state legislature to help clear the cases, Papasodora said.
Councilman Mark Johnson commended City staff for action following the May 7 work session.
“I commend the staff on getting the resolution done so quickly,” he said. “It wasn’t shoved under the rug.”
He wanted to commend the people working on the issue, Mayor Richard Beneville offered. “It is timely. It is important. It is very much about our town and the citizens,” he said. “As a community, we have more to do.”
The document presented to the Council by the Victims of Violent Crime Support Group on behalf of community members delivers a request that:
• The NPD allow for the NPD operations manual to be reviewed by a panel of community members and appropriate uninterested experts for an ethics review of protocol and procedures.
• After the panel review, the NPD institute a policy and protocol according to the recommendations of the panel operations manual review.
• NPD revise their victim contact, interview and engagement procedures and policies to be victim centered.
• NPD send every rape kit currently being held in its possession and every rape kit that will be collected in the future for testing at the state of Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory.
• A special victims’ investigator be hired to handle all backlogged current and future sexual assault cases reported to the NPD.
• A series of public town hall meetings in regard to public safety in Nome facilitated by a non-interested independent consultant.
• An independent expert third party ethics review of NPD around their handling of sexual assault and violent crime cases.
• The recommendations of the ethics review to be followed through by City of Nome.
• A police force that is racially representative of the community in which we live and that racially representative hiring be a measure of performance included on annual evaluations of the police chief.
• A formal memorandum of agreement creating a coalition of the NPD, the four tribal governments within Nome, and local social service delivery agencies, laying a mutual policy and procedure in the handling of sexual and violent crime victim cases to include agency accountability and annual review of effectiveness that includes public input.
• All Nome police officers annual evaluations include attendance to the following trainings: Cultural orientation specific to Nome and Bering Strait region; Racial equality training for Nome police officers; Sexual and violent crime interview skills training for police officers; Sexual assault and violent crime trauma response training for Nome police officers.
“It doesn’t feel good to get scolded, but we can all come out of this in a good place, said Darlene Trigg.
 

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