Mat-Su Assembly urges residents to arm themselves amid crime fears

Blue and red police lights.
A police vehicle’s emergency lights (Valerie Lake/Alaska Public Media)

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly voted this week to encourage all eligible residents to own firearms and ammunition, as residents express concerns about crime and low Alaska State Troopers staffing in the area. 

Assembly members Ron Bernier and Dee McKee cosponsored the resolution, which passed unopposed during a Tuesday meeting.

Some residents expressed concern at the Assembly meeting, questioning how the resolution would increase safety. Bernier said the resolution is meant to help deter crime throughout the borough, with a focus on outlying communities.

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At a public meeting last summer in Trapper Creek, state Department of Public Safety Commissioner James Cockrell explained that funding was not the cause for the lack of trooper presence. Cockrell said that the department had trouble recruiting talent, despite offering a significant sign-on bonus. At that time, 11 positions in the troopers’ B Detachment covering the borough remained open. Troopers at that meeting noted that there may only be five officers on duty to cover the detachment, an area slightly larger than the state of Arkansas. 

A lack of troopers in the Upper Valley has meant a perception of the increase in crime. Residents have become frustrated at the delay in response or lack of response altogether.

Bernier said the lack of trooper presence was not the main driver of the resolution, but that the U.S. and Alaska constitutions support gun rights. He added that even if there were plenty of troopers in the Upper Valley, he would still encourage residents to be armed.

Cockrell said by email that the borough has the ability to fund its own police force if it believes current law-enforcement staffing is inadequate. He also said that though there are fewer troopers working today than state officials would like, there has been no meaningful reduction in trooper response to calls for help or impact to the Alaskans they work for. 

State Rep. Kevin McCabe (R-Big Lake) was supportive of residents arming themselves, since he hears from many constituents about the lack of law enforcement in the area. However, he said he would rather see legislation creating a reserve trooper program or adding village public safety officer support in some of the underserved communities, such as Trapper Creek. 

Bernier said there are several other communities in the U.S. with laws on the books requiring or encouraging residents to be armed. He encouraged borough residents to take advantage of safety courses and firearms training.

“The first defense is going to be yourself,” Bernier said.

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