ALASKA Rural Justice & Law Enforcement Commission

The Need: An Overview

Like other communities nationwide, residents of rural Alaska communities, the majority of whom are Alaska Native, grapple with high rates of alcohol abuse, juvenile suicide, child abuse and neglect, and family violence and sexual assault. Unlike other communities, the residents of many of these communities struggle to maintain order in their communities without the presence of law enforcement physically located in their communities. The enormous geographic size of Alaska, remoteness of many rural communities, skyrocketing costs of transportation, and inability to deliver essential governmental services greatly complicate – and exacerbate - the difficulties inherent in resolving these challenges like this website, continuing to impede communities' efforts to eliminate these grave social conditions.

The social consequences of these challenges are well known. While Alaska Natives represent only nineteen percent of the total population of the state, they are twice as likely to be represented in the state's juvenile justice and adult correctional system, and more than three times as likely to be represented in the state's child protection system. Moreover, multitudes of studies have demonstrated the relationship between unemployment, poverty, disenfranchisement and other deprivations suffered under poor economic conditions and/or alcohol abuse/addiction, substance abuse, family violence and child abuse and neglect.

Despite numerous efforts made by so many over the decades, Alaskans are far from eliminating the barriers that prevent many rural Alaskans from contributing as full participants in their communities. Tribal, state and federal leaders from both the private and public sectors continue to address these issues, and to enhance the availability of law enforcement and access to the justice system in remote Alaska communities as a means of aiding rural communities in addressing these destructive social conditions. Congress created the Alaska Rural Justice and Law Enforcement Commission to study and make recommendations regarding how best to resolve several issues that continue to plague rural communities.

The Mission: Congressional Charge

In 2004, Congress established the Alaska Rural Justice and Law Enforcement Commission within the Omnibus Appropriations Act, directing the Commission to review federal, state, tribal and local jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters in Alaska and make recommendations to the United States Congress and the Alaska State Legislature on four potential options:

  • Create a unified law enforcement system, court system, and system of local laws or ordinances for Alaska Native villages and communities of varying sizes including the possibility of first, second, and third class villages with different powers;
  • Meet the law enforcement and judicial personnel needs in rural Alaska including the possible use of cross-deputization in a way that maximizes the existing resources of Federal, State, local, and tribal governments;
  • Address the needs to regulate alcoholic beverages including the prohibition of the sale, importation, use, or possession of alcoholic beverages and to provide restorative justice for persons who violate such laws including treatment; and
  • Address the problem of domestic violence and child abuse including treatment options and restorative justice.

Between 2004 and 2012 the Commission studied the complex issues encompassed within each of these options, and issued recommendations in its 2006 Initial Report and Recommendations and January 2012 Report to the United States Congress and the Alaska State Legislature.

Fact Finding


The Commission conducted extensive fact-finding, the results of which informed its deliberations and decision-making. The Commission conducted fifteen public hearings at eleven locations throughout Alaska, during which commissioners heard from a wide range of individuals who offered oral and/or written testimony (testimonies are available for download). Just prior to or following these public hearings, the Commission frequently conducted business meetings that were open to the public.


During its second public hearing, conducted in Fairbanks on November 10, 2004, the Commission established four work groups to assist in gathering information relating to the topic areas prescribed by the Congressional language:

  • Law Enforcement
  • Alcohol Importation
  • Domestic Violence and Child Abuse/Neglect
  • The Judiciary

Each group, comprised of individuals with substantial experience and expertise in its topic area, developed recommended options to address the topic area. The workgroups provided the Commission with a total of 104 options, as well as transcribed oral testimony and written testimony gathered from many of the public hearings. On May 2005 the Commission reviewed the workgroup options and adopted those options that would be included in its 2006 Initial Report and Recommendations.


After issuing its 2006 Initial Report and Recommendations, the Commission established four new work groups and directed each group to make more detailed recommendations on specific issues assigned by the Commission. The Commission directed each work group to make recommendations regarding implementation of one of the following concerns:

  • Increased local control over alcohol and drug interdiction in rural Alaska
  • Statewide, uniform and tiered system of certification and training for VPSOs, VPOs and other public safety personnel serving rural communities
  • Prototype Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate tribal-state cooperation under the Indian Child Welfare Act
  • Use existing technology to improve law enforcement and judiciary capabilities in rural communities

The work groups used as a departure point work that had been completed during the first phase of the Commission's work. After deliberating over several months, each of the four work groups made detailed written recommendations to the Commission, which they presented during a special session with the Commission, and responded to questions from the Commission regarding details of the recommendations. These recommendations can be found in Appendix C to the January 2012 Report to Congress and the Alaska State Legislature. The Commission incorporated many of these recommendations into its January 2012 Report to Congress and the Alaska State Legislature.


The Commission


PATRICK ANDERSON, Representing the Alaska Federation of Natives 2006 - 2012 Patrick Anderson is Executive Director of Chugachmiut.

BRUCE M. BOTELHO, Representing the Alaska Municipal League 2004 - 2012 Bruce Botelho is Mayor of the City and Borough of Juneau, Alaska, and previously served as Alaska's Attorney General from January 1994 to December 2002.

CHARLOTTE BROWER, Representing the North Slope Borough 2006 - 2012 Charlotte Brower is Mayor of the North Slope Borough. Prior to becoming Mayor, she served as a magistrate in the Alaska State Court System.

LORETTA BULLARD, Representing a Non-profit Native Corporation that operates a Village Public Safety Officer Program 2004 - 2012 Loretta Bullard is President/CEO of Kawerak, Inc., and has served in this capacity since 1991.

MICHAEL C. GERAGHTY, State Co-Chair February 2012 Michael Geraghty was appointed as the Attorney General for the State of Alaska in February 2012.

WILSON JUSTIN, Representing the Tribal Perspective 2004 - 2012 Wilson Justin is Tribal Administrator of the Cheesh'na Tribal Council, and previously served as the Executive Vice President of the Mt. Sanford Tribal Consortium.

KAREN L. LOEFFLER, Federal Co-Chair 2009 - 2012 Karen Loeffler has served as the United States Attorney for the District of Alaska since October 2009, and was Acting U.S. Attorney from March 2009 to October 2009.


JOSEPH A. MASTERS, Representing the Department of Public Safety 2008 - 2012 Joseph Masters is the Commissioner of Public Safety for the State of Alaska. He has served 28 years as a law enforcement officer, including 20 years as an Alaska State Trooper, and several years as a Village Public Safety Officer, a Village Police Officer and a Municipal Police Officer.

GAIL R. (ANAGICK) SCHUBERT, Representing the Alaska Native Justice Center 2004 - 2012 Gail Schubert is the President/CEO for the Bering Straits Native Corporation. She is an attorney, and is a board member of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

JAMES E. TORGERSON, Representing the Federal District Court for the District of Alaska 2004 - 2012 James Torgerson is the managing partner of the Stoel Rives Anchorage office. Prior to private practice, he served in the U.S. Attorney's office in Anchorage as Chief of the Civil Division from 1994 to 1998 and Chief of the Criminal Division from 1992 to 1994.


EDGAR BLATCHFORD, State Co-Chair January 2005 – March 2005 Edgar Blatchford was the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development between 2003 and 2005.

HAROLD BUDDY BROWN, Representing the Alaska Federation of Natives 2004 - 2006 Harold Brown served as President/CEO for the Tanana Chiefs Conference during his tenure on the Commission. Prior to that time, he served as General Counsel for Tanana Chiefs Conference from 1999 – 2002, and argued the landmark Alaska Supreme Court case of John v. Baker as a member of a legal team representing tribal interests. Mr. Brown passed away while serving on the Commission after a valiant battle against cancer.

TIMOTHY M. BURGESS, Federal Co-Chair 2004 – 2005 Judge Burgess currently sits on the Federal District Court for the District of Alaska. He served as the United States Attorney for the District of Alaska from 2001 to 2005.

JOHN J. BURNS, State Co-Chair 2011 – 2012 John Burns served as the Attorney General for the State of Alaska from January 2011 to January 2012.

NELSON P. COHEN, Federal Co-Chair 2006 - 2009 Nelson Cohen served as the United States Attorney for the District of Alaska from August 2006 to February 2009.

TALIS J. COLBERG, State Co-Chair 2007 – 2009 Talis Colberg served as the Attorney General for the State of Alaska from December 2006 to March 2009.

DAVID MARQUEZ, State Co-Chair 2005 - 2006 David Marquez served as the Attorney General for the State of Alaska from April 2005 to December 2006.

WALT MONEGAN, Representing the Department of Public Safety 2006 - 2008 Walt Monegan is President of Alaska Native Justice Center, and served as Commissioner of Public Safety from December 2006 to July 2008. Prior service includes more than 33 years as a police officer with the Anchorage Police Department, where he retired as Chief of Police.

GREGG RENKES, State-Cho-Chair 2004 - 2005 Gregg Renkes served as the Attorney General for the State of Alaska from November 2002 to February 2005

ROSWELL L. SCHAEFFER, SR., Representing an Organized Borough 2004 - 2005 Roswell Schaeffer served as Mayor of the Northwest Borough.

ETHAN SCHUTT, Representing the Alaska Federation of Natives 2004 - 2006 Ethan Schutt is Senior Vice President, Land and Energy Development at CIRI, and previously served as CIRI's general counsel. He was general counsel to the Tanana Chiefs Conference.

DEBORAH M. SMITH, Federal Co-Chair 2006 Magistrate Judge Smith is the Federal Magistrate for the District of Alaska, and served as Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska between March and August 2006.

DANIEL S. SULLIVAN, State Co-Chair 2009 – 2010 Daniel Sullivan served as the Attorney General for the State of Alaska from June 2009 to December 2010. He is now serving as Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

WILLIAM TANDESKE, Representing the Department of Public Safety 2004 - 2006 Bill Tandeske served as Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety from February 2003 to 2006. Prior to that time, he served as an Alaska State Trooper for 26 years.