Former wildlife trooper and Marathon security supervisor Jim Cockrell has been appointed to head the Alaska Department of Public Safety, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced during a press conference in Kenai on Tuesday.
Cockrell, who served as a member of the Alaska Wildlife Troopers under the Department of Public Safety in 1983, most recently worked as a site security supervisor at Marathon’s Kenai refinery.
“I do personally want to thank you for your confidence and trust in selecting me to serve as the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety,” Cockrell said. “It’s a great honor — it’s a tremendous honor — and I’m incredibly humbled to be placed at the helm of the department at this critical junction.”
Dunleavy made the announcement during a press conference hosted at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center on Tuesday morning, the governor’s first in-person press conference since last March. Also in attendance were Alaska State Troopers, State Reps. Ben Carpenter and Ron Gillham and State Sen. Peter Micciche, who said he has frequently tapped into Cockrell’s “wealth of knowledge” as it relates to public safety in the state.
“He’s going to serve a higher purpose and that is for bringing this organization back together and making the Alaska State Troopers in the Department of Public Safety, back to the greatness that it always has been,” Micciche said. “We’ve worked together on several projects for the benefit of the organization that [have] been very successful.”
Cockrell emphasized the role of state troopers in keeping Alaska safe, particularly in rural areas where public safety resources may be lacking. Specifically, Cockrell said he’d like to see more investigative support in remote areas and to see people stay engaged with the investigation process as it plays out.
Cockrell said his first priority as head of the Department of Public Safety will be to hire more state troopers, hoping to make progress on the state’s domestic violence issue.
“It will certainly be nice when Alaska’s not always known for the state that leads the nation in sexual assault and domestic violence,” he said.
Cockrell also said survivor involvement is crucial in solving these cases.
“It’’s really important that a victim stays engaged with the whole process, because it makes the DA more apt to take the case [and] it makes the judge more apt to give him a better penalty,” he said.
New protocols implemented by the Alaska State Troopers under their 2016 Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) program recently resulted in the sentencing of a Sterling man to 37 years in prison for sexually assaulting and kidnapping a woman in 2001. The sexual assault kit collected from the woman after the incident went untested for over a decade before the victim was contacted and agreed to move forward with prosecution.
“With the technology advances in the police field has certainly allowed us to solve some really difficult and long-standing cases, including the rape case that we had in Sterling,” Cockrell said Tuesday. “We have to take the victim first.”
“We lost over 10% of our commission position because of budget reductions. We lost about $2 million, so we’re still trying to catch up over that hump,” Cockrell said.
He also said recruiting in law enforcement has been difficult following last summer’s police protests across the country.
“There’s not a lot of candidates, and of course right now we’re seeing backlash of all the stuff that happened last summer where law enforcement is not as attractive as it was a few years ago,” Cockrell said. “Fortunately Alaska troopers, I think, have a great reputation.”
Cockrell’s appointment comes less than two months after former DPS Commissioner Amanda Price announced her resignation, which was requested by Dunleavy. According to reporting from the Anchorage Daily News, Price was given the choice either to resign or to be fired without getting to say goodbye to her staff. Price chose to resign.
The Associated Press reported Price said she believed she was removed for advocating for improved 911 dispatch services to rural communities and for a personnel decision she said she was limited in discussing.
During Tuesday’s press conference Dunleavy said that he does not speak about personnel issues “as a matter of policy,” but that in response to criticism from Price that he prioritizes contracts on the Kenai Peninsula and the Mat-Su at the expense of rural Alaska, the department is “committed” to making sure all Alaskans have access to emergency services.
“I am certainly hoping that I can make a difference,” Cockrell said.