Nome police officers to begin wearing body cameras
John K. Handeland, interim city manager, filed a lengthy report to Nome Common Council at its regular meeting Monday night. Handeland, currently utility manager at Nome Joint Utility System, will wear both hats plus oversee hiring of a new city manager.
Handeland acknowledged he had written a longer than usual report.
“It is my goal to keep the Council and the public aware of city operations on an ongoing basis,” Handeland started out. “Clear and open communication, to the extent information is not privileged or confidential, is imperative to maintaining a healthy working relationship with all.”
Handeland had news for those hungry to know what is going on with the Nome Police Dept. He has spent 75 percent of the past three weeks with Chief Bob Estes on personnel matters and a review of operations, Handeland reported.
Body cameras for police officers are in the mail. The hardware will arrive in three weeks. Then setup and implementation will take another couple weeks, according to Handeland.
Estes assigned NPD Officer Wade Harrison to research body cameras and Councilman Jerald Brown evaluated various options.
“We all independently concluded that AXION brand would serve Nome well,” Handeland reported.
The City has made a five-year commitment on the leases. The initial cost for storage and licensing is about $7,000 with an initial hardware order of $3,000. The dozen cameras are free with the subscription to the Cloud storage system. The cameras will be upgraded twice during the five years.
“It will be important to set up the regulations,” Brown said in a separate interview. “There have to be rules about when to turn them off for confidentiality and all.”
Body cams would provide evidence and act as a deterrent to escalating encounters between officers and suspects, Brown felt.
Handeland has met with the City’s attorney and with other agencies to gather information to help the City of Nome to develop policies and protocols relating to use, archiving and policies relating to distribution of footage to outside parties, he said.
In his report, Handeland also said that a full-time, temporary investigator has been hired to help clear a backlog of cases.
Rosemary Tootkaylook has taken a job as full-time Communications Officer I (dispatch). Hire of Vincent Nguyen as full-time Police Officer I is pending. Officers Lance McElroy and Crystal Toolie have resigned.
There have been status changes in the department: Lori Mueller, Communications Officer II went from full time to part time. Joseph Dickerson was promoted from part-time investigator to sergeant, also part time; Dawn Ubelaker was reassigned to become full time NPD administrative assistant from the part time cemetery position; and Alex Le is now Police Officer II (APSC certified), full time.
Handeland supplied information on the accumulation of 126 rape kits spanning a decade recently submitted to the State Crime Lab. There has been “concern, consternation and conjecture” relating to the rape kits, Handeland acknowledged. To gain assurance the kits did not mean justice for victims not being sought, Handeland met and conferred with John Earthman, district attorney. Handeland learned thus: “A rape kit is a piece of evidence, but not crucial to prosecution. In a high number of cases, the question is not “Did sex occur?” but rather “Was it consensual?” If the answer to the first is yes, then the results of the rape kit may serve as additional evidence for the court. Science has evolved as has the processing of DNA. What used to take several months can now be accomplished in several weeks or expedited. For years, the State Crime Lab did not want the kits submitted if they were not required for evidentiary purposes, i. e. there was not the question of sex and the kit was not required to prove the case. Now with a new State Crime Lab, all kits can be submitted—even if not needed for prosecution, but the benefit is it helps build the data base, Handeland reported.Handeland had spoken with the District Attorney.“It appears the noncommittal over an extended period resulting in an accumulation of kits not tested was in accordance with State-sanctioned guidance and protocols,” Handeland stated. The 126 kits recently submitted does not represent 126 individuals where justice was not served.”
Handeland’s report included an ongoing review concerning a social media post alleging that officers had beaten a local man and dropped him off outside of town. The post does not match up with recordings of calls to 911, recorded radio traffic logs, and witness statements to date.
“The review is ongoing, timelines have been established, and some witnesses have been interviewed, with others identified, some of which are not cooperating with the probe,” Handeland’s review said. “But these serious allegations warrant addressing at this time: Two separate calls within a six-minute window, were received by 911 Dispatch from citizens reporting they “saw” a female getting sexually assaulted. Officers responded to the scene and identified the reported female victim as well as the alleged male perpetrator. Citizens had involved themselves in protecting the female victim and forcefully separated the alleged male perpetrator prior to officers arriving.While at this scene, additional calls requesting police response were received requiring officers at other locations. Initially enroute to the hospital with the alleged male perpetrator, the alleged male perpetrator stated he wanted to go to a Third Avenue address, where he was released after being given a disorderly conduct and criminal trespass warnings. A later call from a concerned brother-in-law of the alleged male perpetrator reported speaking with him, and that he was now by “NSHC Maintenance” somewhere and didn’t know where he was, and requested if officers did find him—to drop him back at the Third Avenue location where he had initially been dropped off. Based on information to date, Handeland wrote, officers were not involved in inflicting physical force or harm on the alleged male perpetrator and he was dropped off at an in-town residence per his request, apparently later leaving that residence and wandering around town.
Handeland has contacted the Alaska Municipal League concerning training for staff on Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment. An AML police consultant, Greg Russell, will lead the training. Attendance will be mandatory for all employees, according to Handeland. Handeland and Estes will work with Russell on added training and assistance in policy-review development.This week, a police chief visiting in Alaska with another agency will provide a mandatory training: How to assess and improve operations of a small law enforcement agencies.
More mandatory training is on the way, according to Handeland.
In other personnel action, long-time employee Ruth Barnhart has resigned from the Finance Dept. A new full-time assistant director, Clark Bruno, has been hired for the Nome Rec Center.
The Council discussed having another discussion on forming a citizens’ public safety committee to assist in rebuilding community trust in the police department and other issues on sex crime, domestic violence and well being within the community. It was suggested to meet perhaps on a Sunday afternoon rather than a pre-Council meeting session, so that the panel would not be pressed for time.
“We need to have a time when we do not feel rushed,” Councilwoman Meghan Topkok said. “So we can hold ourselves accountable to make progress.”
Lisa Ellanna, victim’s advocate, took the podium. “I think it is more urgent than to sit around and discuss it. You need to take the bull by the horns and address [the issues],” Ellanna said. “People are wanting this. You need to take the lead. You signed up for Council. You need to lead. We need you to do it.”
The Council packet contained eight or nine applications of people interested in serving on a public safety advisory committee.
The Council tentatively scheduled a work session for Nov. 19 to get down to brass tacks on forming a citizens’ public safety committee.
Handeland’s lengthy report contained pages more information about City business. Stay tuned.