Head of Alaska police organization calls for consistent policies across state

Steve Dutra
North Pole Police Chief Steve Dutra, president of the Alaska Association of Police Chiefs, wants to develop a statewide policy manual for all Alaska police forces. (Screenshot/KUAC)

As police reform continues across the country, the Alaska Association of Police Chiefs is trying to write a statewide policy manual. The goal is to provide police departments, big and small, consistent guidelines for use of force, equipment and vehicles.

The association’s president, North Pole Police Chief Steve Dutra, is leading development of the policy manual.

“This gives everybody a good model policy on how to conduct yourself and procedures that a small department can pull it right out of the box and put it on the shelf and use it,” Dutra said.

Dutra said he’s asking the Legislature for $550,000 in seed money for the project. Those funds would hire a contractor to produce the guidelines, then follow with training and outreach. The association is also working with the Alaska Municipal League to raise the money.

“It’s a heavy lift for a small or medium-sized agency to do this on their own,” he said. “Some villages have only one cop.”

Small Alaska towns don’t have the resources to research updates on court decisions or weapons technology, Dutra said. But once written, the Alaska-specific Police Policy Manual could be adapted to fit variously sized and outfitted departments, serving communities ranging from villages to cities.

“You get this policy, that’s done,” he said. “And then you just have to take that policy, go, ‘Okay, I don’t have a helicopter,’ throw that out; ‘I don’t have four-wheelers;’ throw that out; ‘I don’t have Tasers,’ throw that out. Right? Or a body cam policy, whatever it might be; you can take all that stuff out of there that you use, and then put forward a policy your department could now adopt as legally, defensible; capable of withstanding scrutiny, legal scrutiny.”

Dutra said legal and insurance liability are driving a lot of the need for consistency, but stressed that police departments are also responding to public demand for transparency.

“We’re being upfront: ‘Here’s our policies. We’ll publish ’em online, we’ll show you what we do, we have, we do use of force online, so it’s transparent,’ you know?” he said. “There’s lots of things like that that help build better relationships between the police and the community.”

As president of the chiefs’ association, Dutra wants published policies and updated training to become the norm, not the exception.

“We need to be ahead of this, not behind it,” he said.

Then Dutra wants police departments to seek accreditation from a national reviewer. Right now, only the Kodiak Police Department and the Anchorage Airport Police and Fire Department are accredited. He is working on accreditation for his own force in North Pole.

“If we develop policies that are vetted, that are sound, and people know that North Pole PD has adopted these policies and we get accredited, it makes us look good, right?” he said.

The conversation with Dutra last week about writing and funding the policy manual came before Memphis, Tennessee released video footage of the brutal police beating that killed Tyre Nichols.

“The purpose of our project is to stop these things from happening,” Dutra said in a follow-up interview this week.

Dutra emphasized that what happened in Memphis “was not policing.” He said it underscores the need for strict conduct guidelines.

“If it comes to fruition — the policy manual and accreditation come hand in hand — you’ll see the professional level of departments rise. That’s an important message,” he said.

Dutra wants to send that message because he’s recruiting for two open positions on the North Pole Police Department, and he knows many other agencies in Alaska are also under-staffed.

“And then the professionalism rises in the departments, then you no longer have … thugs… working the streets and unsupervised positions,” he said.

State Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, who authored several police reform bills in the last session, and Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, are working with Dutra to sponsor the legislation. The Alaska State Troopers, the state Department of Public Safety and the Alaska Police Standards Council are not yet a part of the project.

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