Chickaloon tribal policing to expand to non-Native Alaskans under unique state authorization

Alaska Department of Public Safety communications director Austin McDaniel, left, and Alaska State Troopers Capt. Andrew Gorn, center, answered questions at a public meeting in Sutton Elementary School on Tuesday, April 9, 2024, about the state’s agreement with the Chickaloon Tribal Police Department granting officers limited special commission to enforce certain State of Alaska criminal laws. (Bill Roth / ADN)

A unique policing agreement in a part of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough will allow tribal police to enforce some state laws.

The idea is that, with state authorization, the Chickaloon Native Village’s tribal police will fill a policing gap in the Sutton area, east of Palmer in a part of the borough that often does not have a meaningful Alaska State Trooper presence.

As the Anchorage Daily News reports, that’s because only five troopers are typically on patrol in all of the Mat-Su — an area the size of West Virginia — and they tend to focus on the more populated areas adjacent to Palmer and Wasilla.

ADN reporter Amy Bushatz was at a meeting in Sutton last week to brief the community about the proposed agreement. And Bushatz says it would only apply to a specific area and for specific laws.


Amy Bushatz: Yeah, so the agreement will let Chickaloon’s police force enforce laws in this 68-square-mile region that’s off the Glenn Highway and is northwest of what you might think of as Sutton, plus those village properties that are in actual Sutton. It would allow them to police misdemeanors. It would allow them to police felony drug and misdemeanor drug crimes, and it would allow them to police sex trafficking, either misdemeanor or felony. So I think it’s important to note that the other side of this, that the reason that Chickaloon says this is important, Chickaloon wants to have the ability to police those crimes against their citizens when they are committed by a non-Alaska Native citizen.

Casey Grove: So if you live in Palmer or Wasilla or Fairbanks, I mean, a number of different cities, there’s a tax base there. They’ve got their own police force. They pay for that police force with the tax base. And I know that’s a kind of a simple version of that, because there’s money that comes from other places, too. But how does this work? I mean, who actually pays for this?

AB: So one of the reasons the Department of Public Safety says that they are interested in doing this is because of that funding. There is a variety of high-dollar grants available to tribal police forces right now through federal programs that are equipping these tribal police forces with officers and training and equipment, actual physical equipment, that you need to do policing, and really setting them up to be able to fill this need. And so the Department of Public Safety is looking at this and saying, “These police forces have the funding, and they have the training to meet our standards that we require for people who are having partnerships like this with us. So we should use them, because they are already equipped and funded by somebody outside of the state, by the federal government.”

CG: And I mean, as far as the Chickaloon police in this agreement, what are they doing to, I guess, adjust to maybe an extra workload? Are they adding officers and equipment like that?

AB: Yeah, so they have received about $4.3 million in federal grants. That’s gone towards that police training I was talking about and equipment and other tribal justice programs. They have three officers that they have equipped and that they will be submitting to the state to participate in this program. And I should mention that the state has an agreement, so it’s like a memorandum of understanding, with the tribal police force. But it is individual officers who are commissioned under this special agreement to be that extension of state law. So Chickaloon has three officers for this right now. They’re planning to add a fourth, you know, and as far as like funding for that, it’s all from the federal government.

CG: Back to this meeting last week, how did that go? It sounded like it was like three hours long, people were giving public testimony, and it was maybe a lot of different points of view on that. But what did you hear from people there?

AB: Yeah, so this meeting was held in the Sutton Elementary School. It was certainly well attended, and it was actually a fairly calm meeting. People asked very thoughtful questions. They were each given an opportunity by the meeting organizer, which was representatives from Sutton’s Community Council, to ask a question and a follow-up question. Sometimes that went into two follow-up questions, as meetings are wont to do sometimes. They had to do with, like, how is this set up? What are the practical implications for this? What does this look like from, “I’m a citizen here, and I’ll be interacting with these police officers,” perspective. And then there were also concerns, you know. The Department of Public Safety made sure to tell everybody that the Chickaloon police would not be empowered under this agreement to do any traffic stops, which is a hot button topic there.

CG: In terms of how the state’s looking at this, how the Department of Public Safety is looking at this, there was something in your story kind of along the lines of, “You could maybe expect more of this in the future,” right?

AB: The Department of Public Safety expects more tribal police forces to be applying to them for similar memorandums of understanding and special commissions for officers, because they are receiving this federal funding for police training and equipment and tribal justice programs. And so they are planning to use this as sort of a template, if you will, for future applications. So they have already been through how to decide what this looks like and what parameters the tribe has and those sorts of things. And so yes, they expect more of these applications in the future and that this is really just the start.

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at Read more about Casey here

Previous articleAlaska Senate proposes $7.5M aid package for struggling fish processors
Next articleAlaska News Nightly: Friday, April 19, 2024