Nome meets and greets new NPD Chief Bob Estes
With demands on the table that the Nome Police Department commit to investigating sexual assaults, domestic violence and for that matter respond timely to all other calls for service, new police chief Bob Estes faced a polite but stern crowd last Monday during a “Coffee with Chief Estes” event in the evening at the Mini Convention Center.
The crowd grew to about 40 people who attended to meet the new chief.
Allegations of not following up on reports of sexual assaults and other crimes caused a dedicated group of citizens to show up at Nome Common Council meetings, amounting to a public display of no confidence in the Nome Police Department and the city administration.
With the retirement of former Chief John Papasodora and the Common Council’s acceptance of City Manager Tom Moran’s letter of resignation, the new leadership was pressed to show that citizen concerns are heard.
Interim city manager John Handeland and Nome Mayor Richard Beneville were on hand to introduce Bob Estes and to assure the public that all efforts will be made to be more responsive, timely and transparent in the future.
Handeland began by saying that Estes already formulated a mission and vision statement, which is posted on the NPD’s website, to guide the department’s actions. The mission reads, “The mission of the Nome Police Department is to preserve the peace, enforce the law, prevent and detect crime, and protect life and property.”
The vision statement reads that NPD “is committed to being a professional police department and a leader among Alaska’s law enforcement by hiring and promoting a professional staff, employing the highest standards of performance, best practices, accountability, and reflecting the values of the community.”
It also describes the commitment to human values of honesty, integrity, service, compassion, fairness, diversity, human rights and justice. “The police department will strive to maintain the trust of the community through transparency by actively engaging with the public it serves,” the statement reads.
Handeland also said that along with the mission and vision statement there is a complaint form posted that citizens are encouraged to use if they have a complaint. If, however, people do not feel comfortable bringing a complaint to NPD, Handeland volunteered his direct phone number to be dialed, 443-1234.
Handeland also recounted a recent “night out” when he accompanied outgoing City Manager Tom Moran and was not “allowed to go home until 3 a.m.” They first went to steak night at the VFW, then to the bars on Front Street, to see firsthand the nightly reality. “Sometimes things don’t seem to be what they are,” Handeland prefaced his story, which involved a person picking a fight in one bar, then continuing on to a different bar, where the same person picked another fight until police came to deal with the situation. Phones were out filming the scene that involved forcefully subduing the combative individual, but Handeland brought home the point that things need to be seen in their full context.
The topic of body cameras for cops came up and both Handeland as well as Estes supported the notion of outfitting Nome police officers with those devices.
Handeland’s take home message was that mistakes were made in the past, “we need to own those mistakes, learn from them and move on.” As a lifelong Nome resident and committed to the well-being of Nome and its citizens he said he’ll be here until “they plant me.”
Estes said he spent about $14,000 to move here from Virginia – partially offset by a $5,000 moving bonus by the City of Nome — and that his wife will join him here in Nome in November. “It’s an honor to be here and I appreciate the opportunity,” he said. Briefly he dropped a few facts about himself: he holds Lt. Colonel rank with the US Army Reserve; is active in his church, as a volunteer for the Food Bank and is a member of the VFW, DAV and American Legion, has volunteered for different community services all his life and has been a police officer for 26 years. He said he believes in community policing, getting to know the people of this community and to support training opportunities for his officers as long as the NPD still can handle the workload left on the shoulders of remaining officers.
He made clear he needs more staff and signaled as much to the attending council members Mark Johnson, Adam Martinson and Doug Johnson. Estes stated that he needs an executive assistant to help him with paperwork so that he can do actual police chief work and not be buried in paperwork like his predecessor.
He also signaled that he would call in outside assistance should complaints come in about him or NPD. In terms of training and beefing up his staff, he floated the idea to bring in friends of his, who could be temporary hires and who could help train the young police force that exists in Nome now. Estes also identified one shortcoming of Nome that influences the ability to recruit and retain qualified officers or personnel: low current wages and high cost of living and the lack of affordable housing.
Then came the public’s turn to ask questions. Darlene Trigg suggested a tactic of recruiting and hiring from within the community having the advantage of having community-grown employees, living here already and knowing the community’s needs. Justin Noffsker brought up the example of the NSEDC initiative to grow our own teachers through long-term investments in scholarships and planting the thought in today’s students to be tomorrow’s teachers. “I encourage you to look at the concept to raise your own law enforcement,” he said.
Keith Morrison asked Chief Estes about his opinion on councilman Jerald Brown’s idea to form a Community Advisory Committee that would work with NPD to right the ship. Estes heard what Morrison did not say and roundly rejected the idea of a “Citizen Review Board.” “Having a citizen review board I am against,” Estes said. He said it would be tantamount of him without medical experience telling a nurse how to treat a patient.
Lisa Ellanna asked if she heard right: Is he rejecting the idea of citizen input? She provided context to the situation Nome is in today. She calmly related to Estes the months of coming before the city council and “starting to voice our concerns. “There is a lot of tension and a huge public outcry to foster and nurture a healthier relationship with the police,” she said. “The creation of some kind of community committee and providing input in partnership with and support of you, could bring nothing but good.” Again Estes was hearing only citizen review board and said the only one who would be in position to discipline him would be the city manager, pointing to John Handeland. “You have to trust me as well,” he said, “Solving Nome’s problems is a community issue, it’s not a Bob issue.”
Handeland jumped in and clarified the disconnect that Lisa Elanna was not talking about a review board.
Darlene Trigg summarized the situation pointing out that for example numbers don’t add up in terms of reports of sexual assaults and numbers of unprocessed SART kits. She made clear that the system has not served the public well, as sexual assaults that are reported go uninvestigated and that there is no reason to trust NPD at this point. “We are just not in that place right now,” she said. “Many of us were born here, we live here and many of us will die here. We have kids, we have grand kids and we are worried,” she said. She and Ellanna repeatedly made clear that they want to be part of the solution. Trigg invited Chief Estes to be collaborator in the upcoming Regional Wellness Forum. “I’m open to that,” Estes said.