Nome Police Department audit released
Last week, the management audit of the Nome Police Department, which has been more than a year in the making, was released. The audit offers recommendations on where NPD should focus its improvement efforts to better serve the community.
The audit was written by Russell Consulting, LLC, a Soldotna-based company that specializes in Public Safety Management consulting. The City of Nome ordered it more than a year ago amid years of personnel turnover and other issues within the police department.
The main auditor was Gregory Russell, a retired Alaska State Trooper and former Kotzebue Chief of Police. He surveyed NPD staff and some community members, and reviewed NPD facilities and documents to determine where the department was succeeding and where it could improve.
Some of the audit’s highest priority recommendations have to do with organization and procedure. Disorganization of evidence storage, along with the lack of digital evidence capabilities and a trained evidence custodian, presented a “high liability” issue that should be addressed immediately, the report said.
It also recommended the department “implement departmental policies consistent with established accreditation standards.” While up-to-date and well-understood policy manuals are a cornerstone of good policing, the report said, the NPD policy manual dated back to 2012 and was mostly based on the Alaska Department of Public Safety manual. Almost all the NPD employees interviewed couldn’t locate a copy of the manual. The audit emphasized the importance of clear policies that are well understood by the entire department and updated at least every 18 months.
Another high priority issue involved staff development and training. “Unhealthy signs of low department morale were immediately apparent when the first audit was initiated in November 2019,” the report said. “Everyone in the department expressed dissatisfaction with department morale, some saying that it was at its worst since they began working for the department. More than one employee expresses a strong desire to work elsewhere in order to regain peace of mind and job satisfaction,” it said.
One strategy to boost morale was to offer more training and staff support. A formalized Field Training Program that “emphasizes experience, leadership, community policing, and professional development” would improve workplace satisfaction and help the department retain staff, the report said. It went on to specify what kinds of training should be available to different levels of staff, including basic field training for new hires and advanced investigations training for higher level supervisors.
Some of the lower-level trainings could be developed in Nome, the report recommended, and others would involve travel to the police academy in Sitka. It also mentioned that remote training opportunities have proliferated because of the pandemic, and that NPD could take advantage of those as well to cut down on costs.
Other, lower priority recommendations included a full inventory of all the department’s equipment, a more detailed annual budget with detailed justification for each line item and the establishment of a regular audit every three years.
Another priority recommendation was accreditation through an organization like the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. This would be a longer, more expensive process, but have a good long-term impact, it said.
The report also contained some qualitative feedback from “elected officials and members of the public” whom the auditors interviewed. Feedback included calls to adhere to procedure and enforce laws fairly, although the report didn’t elaborate on these comments or incorporate them into any recommendations. “Public perception is increasingly a concern for police departments. These clients have varying opinions about the quality of service they receive from its police department,” the report said.
The audit also noted that discontent and distrust within the department was “significantly reduced” when Mike Heintzelman became the Chief of Police. It had high praise for Heintzelman and was optimistic about the department’s future under his leadership. “His common sense, professional experience, and a knowledgeable approach to problem solving have helped stabilize the department and focused it on its mission of serving and protecting the citizens and guests on Nome,” the report said. “Employees consider him trustworthy, professional, available, responsive, supportive and deserving of loyalty.”