Representatives of Alaska Native village corporations, public safety organizations, tribes and rural Alaska communities gathered in a conference room to present their concerns to Barr.
Vivian Korthuis, with the Association of Village Council Presidents, based in Bethel, pointed out that there were as many TV cameras in the room – six – as there are Village Public Safety Officers in the 48 villages in AVCPs area.
Others spoke about a lack of resources for survivors and victims of crimes, particularly domestic violence and sexual assault. Michael Nemeth, the public safety coordinator for the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, pointed out that for victims of domestic violence and sex assault in his corporations area, the farthest community is 1,200 miles from Anchorage – the distance from Newark, New Jersey, to Orlando, Florida. For domestic violence victims to seek help, they may have to leave the community, pull their kids out of school, and travel long distances just to get out of a bad situation.
Long wait times for Alaska State Troopers to respond, difficulty recruiting and retaining Village Public Safety Officers, domestic violence, sexual assault, recidivism, drug trafficking, addiction, lack of rehabilitation resources and uncertain funding are just some of the problems brought up by those at the table.
Ralph Andersen, with the Bristol Bay Native Association, says public safety and law enforcement have long been a problem in Rural Alaska. People call it a challenge, I call it a problem. I call them what they are, Andersen said.
We cant accept them as being normal,” Andersen said. “We cant accept these problems as being the way of life in rural Alaska.
Many urged partnerships with the federal government by way of grants, the modification of grant programs when it comes to tribes and rural communities, allowing tribal justice systems to apply to entire communities regardless of tribal membership, and better infrastructure to intercept drugs on their way into the state.
The Anchorage meeting is part of a four-day visit to Alaska, Sen. Dan Sullivan, who is hosting the Attorney General, said. Some of the participants in the roundtable discussion mentioned welcoming Barr to communities in Southwest and Interior Alaska over the next few days.
Barr pledged a follow-up mechanism to continue to gather information from the participants, and vowed to schedule a follow-up meeting, be it in Washington, D.C. or Alaska, to follow up on the ideas.
As he was leaving the room, Barr did not respond when a reporter asked about special counsel Robert Muellers statements Wednesday morning that he did not exonerate the president. Reporters were not given allotted time for questions.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Tribal representatives in Alaska told U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday that rural Alaska Natives suffer from multiple public safety problems, including no law enforcement presence in multiple villages, substance abuse and alarmingly high rates of violence and sexual assault.
Barr is at the start of a four-day visit to Alaska. Among his first actions in the visit, Barr heard from Alaska Natives Wednesday who participated with him in an Alaska Native justice roundtable in Anchorage.
His visit came the same day special counsel Robert Mueller countered criticism from Barr and others that he should have decided whether to charge President Donald Trump with obstruction of justice during his investigation into Russian election meddling.
In his first public comments since the investigation began two years ago, Mueller said indicting a sitting president was not an option because of a Justice Department legal opinion. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided the evidence didnt support an obstruction charge against Trump.
At the roundtable meeting, Barr did not address Muellers remarks or take questions from reporters. As he left the discussion, he didnt respond to a question from The Associated Press about Muellers remarks.
During the roundtable meeting, Vivian Korthius, representing the Association of Village Council Presidents, echoed others in saying more law enforcement officers are needed. She noted that there were six press cameras in the room. Thats the same number of village public safety officers in her 48-village region, she said.
Communities with no police presence often must wait long stretches before state troopers can arrive to investigate crimes. Sometimes the wait is as long as a full day, participants said. They also spoke about the need to strengthen tribal courts.
Barr spent most of his time listening to tribal representatives detail the lack of law enforcement in villages, the slow response times, the violence against women and abuse of alcohol and drugs, including opioids. In the larger rural hub communities, victims of domestic violence and sexual assault have limited services available, or none at all in the villages, according to participants.
Earlier in the day, he met with top Alaska law enforcement officials. Plans also included visiting the state crime lab.
Barrs Alaska trip comes as Congress and advocates have renewed a focus on violence against Native American and Alaska Native women.
Federal figures show they are victims of violence at astonishing rates. The most recent numbers show that more than half have faced sexual and domestic violence at some point in their lives.
A 2013 federal report found that at least 75 Alaska Native communities had no law enforcement presence. Tribal leaders have spoken candidly about barriers that victims face in seeking justice, saying some sexual assault victims must take boats or planes to urban areas to get a medical forensic exam.
Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Republicans, are joining Barr on parts of his visit, and Sullivan participated in the roundtable discussion.
Loretta Lynch, who served as attorney general under President Barack Obama, also visited Alaska Native leaders to discuss public safety and other issues in June 2016.