Town hall meeting raises questions
A town hall meeting held Saturday at Old St. Joe’s to discuss ways to improve public safety in Nome raised far more questions than it answered. The meeting was announced on official city letterhead yet they city’s representation was minimal. The course of the discussion was not so much about public safety as about the relationship between the Nome Police Department and members of the community who would like to see more trust and mutual understanding, particularly when it comes to sexual assault and domestic violence.
An agenda passed out by citizens attending the town hall read, “We have begun a constructive conversation around how sexual assaults are handled in Nome because we want our citizens to feel safe, protected, and believed. Our intent is to increase NPD transparency, increase NPD accountability, and rebuild trust in our public safety system.” The agenda listed four areas of concern: Policies, training needs, accountability mechanisms for NPD officers and staff, and the selection committee for the new NPD Chief.
About 25 citizens attended the meeting, the majority of them women. From the City of Nome, there was Councilman Jerald Brown and City Clerk Bryant Hammond. Two uniformed police officers were also in attendance.
“We just want to have a chance to communicate with our city council members in a less time constrained forum,” said Lisa Ellanna. ”We think that having meetings like this where city council members are able to hear directly from their constituents are important. I’m not in charge. There’s a group of people who asked for this to happen.”
The focus of the citizens’ questioning was the relationship between the police department and the community. Questions about the NPD’s operations manual wondered why the manual was not available to the public. Councilman Brown said he’d never seen the manual himself.
“One of the things we have to bear in mind in all of this is the community and the police department have a long history of mistrust,” said Darlene Trigg. “And some of things that we hear and some of the things that we are experiencing as citizens are so reminiscent of times in our recent history that it’s scary. It almost feels like we’re in that position where we’re reliving the past. And that past had significant consequences for the Native community but it also had significant consequences for the city. And the whole intention of this group of people coming together is to rebuild trust.”
Several people were concerned about the process of hiring a new chief of police to replace the outgoing Chief John Papasodora (see story below). They expressed concern that the public was not involved in the process and that they didn’t know who was on the committee which selected the final two candidates.
“But certainly I feel like this group of people has made some attempt to try and work with the city and there have been some things that have been great,” said Darlene Trigg. “But there’s a lot of work that needs to be done and when you think about the importance of trust between law enforcement and its community members I think that that’s a significant thing.”
The meeting began at 2 p.m. and didn’t break up until just before 5 p.m.
Outside in the parking lot Justin Noffsker still had something to say. “One of the big issues we’re having right now is what is our ride-along policy? Is there one? It’s not published. And everybody in there who remembers what happened remembers that one thing that came out of that is there’s never going to be another ride-along. But there are ride-alongs going on right now. There was a 12-year-old girl going on ride-alongs. She was also getting texted by the officer. It was reported to law enforcement agencies and there was nothing done about it.”