ACADEMY GRADUATION – Governor Mike Dunleavy shakes hands with graduates at the Alaska Department of Public Safety Law Enforcement Training Session 1902 graduation ceremony this afternoon at the Sheet'ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi. Twenty-six law enforcement officers from across the state received their badges in the ceremony and will be taking jobs as Alaska State Troopers, a Wildlife Trooper, and city and borough police department officers.  (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Ferry System Study: DOT Given Options

    ANCHORAGE (AP) — The Alaska Department of Transportation is considering how to act on a study addressing issues within the Alaska Marine Highway System, including an aging fleet and decreased ridership, officials said.
    The study conducted by research firm Northern Economics evaluated 11 options for overhauling the network of vessels that moves people, vehicles and goods, The Alaska Journal of Commerce reported Wednesday.
    The ferry system reaches 35 communities spread over more than 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) from the Aleutian Islands to Bellingham, Washington.
    Ferry ridership has declined from about 350,000 passengers in 1998 to 251,000 passengers in 2018. The drop coincides with GPS and other technological advances that have made flying safer and more consistent, transportation department Commissioner John MacKinnon said.
    “The chance of them doing a flyover now and not being able to land is a lot smaller than it used to be, so our competition is just technology that the airlines have been able to use to improve their performance,” MacKinnon said.
    Vehicle transport has remained steady at about 100,000 car, truck and van shipments per year, according to ferry service figures.
    Ten of the state’s 12 ferries are 37 years old on average and six ferries are more than 40 years old. Two fast shuttle ferries are docked and will be sold because they are not fuel efficient and have been plagued by engine problems and hull cracking, officials said.
    The ferry system’s budget has been cut in half since its peak of $111.2 million in fiscal year 2012 and service levels have been cut about 25% over that time. This year’s budget calls for a $56 million state subsidy, which is a compromise between the Legislature and Republican Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s original proposal of $21.8 million.

FBI: Sex Assault Rate In Alaska Highest in Nation

    ANCHORAGE (AP) — Alaska has the nation’s highest rate of sexual assault and violent crime has increased in the state, a new FBI report said.
    The 2018 statistical analysis from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program said Alaska did not conform to a general national decline in violent crime, Alaska Public Media reported.
    The annual report uses statistics from law enforcement agencies to provide an analysis of crime at the national, state and municipal levels.
    Alaska saw an 11% increase in the number of sexual assaults reported to law enforcement in 2018, while nationally there were 2.7% more assaults, the report said.
    Alaskans reported four times more sexual assaults than the national rate: 161.6 per 100,000 Alaska residents compared to 42.6 per 100,000 people nationally, the report said.
    Violent crime in Alaska increased by 3% from 2017 to 2018 while falling 3% nationally, the report said.
    However, the number of murders in Alaska fell by 24%, from 62 in 2017 to 47 in 2018, with 26 of those in Anchorage.
    Alaska law enforcement agencies reported seven hate crimes in Alaska in 2018. That was an increase over 2017, when there were four reports, but a decrease from the 11 reports in 2016.
    Four of the hate crimes in 2018 were based on bias against the victim’s race or ethnicity and were reported in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Kotzebue. Two hate crimes reported in Juneau centered on religion and another report in Fairbanks concerned disability status, the report said.

Regents Approve $277M For UA Budget request

    ANCHORAGE (AP) — Alaska university board regents approved a $277 million operating budget request following a plan previously negotiated by university leaders and Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
    The University of Alaska Board of Regents voted unanimously Friday to cut the university system’s budget request by $25 million for the 2020-21 school year, school officials said. The decrease is part of a three-year plan to reduce the budget by $25 million this academic year, an additional $25 million next year and by $20 million the following year.
    Under the recent approval, the University of Alaska Anchorage is set to lose $9.1 million in direct state support, the University of Alaska Fairbanks is set to lose $12.3 million and the remaining cuts would be received by the University of Alaska Southeast and other remote campuses, officials said. It is not clear what programs or staff would be affected by the decision.
    “The compact agreement actually benefited the university over a three-year period by $260 million,” University President Jim Johnsen said compared to Dunleavy’s original one-year cut proposal. The budget cut is also subject to state Legislature approval.
    The board originally planned to vote on a proposed 5% tuition increase for the coming fall semester but unanimously agreed to postpone the vote until January after student opposition, regents said.
    The Anchorage and Fairbanks universities were also told to continue with their individual athletic programs for the 2020-21 season, following an October announcement to table the idea of consolidating into a single-accredited university until 2021, officials said. The future for both athletic programs after the 2020-21 season remains uncertain.
    The next full board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 17 in Anchorage.

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