Last week Alaska Senator Mark Begich was in Kodiak on a campaign swing. Begich is running for re-election this fall and opened a campaign office on the island. While in town he took the time to stop by KMXT and talk about a few issues pertinent to the Kodiak community. This week we’ll bring you excerpts from that conversation, starting with drugs and drug abuse.
Begich said Kodiak’s drug problem is one that’s all too familiar around the state. One thing being done in Southeast Alaska is collaboration between local law enforcement and the United States Postal Service.
“Because that’s were some of these drugs will come through. And there’s not enough inspection capacity. And we think that working with the local communities and the local police officers allow them capacity to inspect postal packages – not just waiting for the post office to do, because they can only do a certain percentage, will have an impact.”
On the national level, Begich said he’s supported adding resources to the COPS program.
“COPS program brings federal dollars to match against local dollars to hire more police, public safety officers that can work within communities. This was very successful in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, other communities that have taken advantage of this. Some villages have taken advantage of this in years gone by. We increased the funding pretty significantly this last year. As a member of the appropriations committee this was one of my requests – to increase that.”
He said Alaska is also one of only 10 states that work with a special unit of the National Guard on drug interdiction.
“For example let’s say you have a place that is an abandoned house that’s being used as kind of a drug hang out. Once it has that activity, you can actually have the guard come in and tear the place down at their expense. And I’ll tell you what happens, when you do that it sends a message real quick like that we’re not going to tolerate it.”
Another way the federal government is getting involved is partnering communities with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to go after guns, gangs and drugs.
“The way it works is if you allow prosecution under the state system for drug offenses, the problem with that is it’s almost like a revolving door. They arrest them, they go out. You have not a really strong system. But because the federal system is mandatory requirements, meaning mandatory sentencing, what happens is if we catch you with drugs or guns or a combination, what can happen is you get five year minimum sentencing. And you’re shipped out of state to a federal penitentiary when you’re in partnership. And that was very important kinds of enforcement because once you do that, it sends a message to the street.”
Begich added that he also believes more funding and energy needs to go into the school systems to educate young people about drugs and the consequences before they have opportunities to use them. He said kids are actually pretty influenced by interactions with former users and addicts who share stories about how drugs affected their lives.