Rural Troopers: Building relationships and keeping communities safe in Alaska’s wilderness

Published: Oct. 14, 2020 at 6:16 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - As a member of the Fairbanks Area Rural Unit, Alaska State Trooper Derek Cottle starts his day a little differently then other Troopers do; by heading out of town, down the Elliot highway towards Minto and Manley Hot Springs.

“We’ve got a little bit of follow-up to do on a couple cases, we need to talk to our witness’s from stuff, we have a few victims to talk to, to make sure that their lives are getting back to normal and that they don’t need anything from us at the moment,” Cottle said.

While on the job he said they use all kinds of transportation to get to where they need to be, “We fly, drive, snow machine, boat, dog sled, whatever we need to do to help out.”

As he heads out of Fairbanks on the Elliot highway he talks about how they are different from other patrol Troopers.

“It’s a lot more one on one time with community members, sometimes even before we can get to the case itself we have to build those bridges so we can get community buy-in to have the community help us solve the problem. If we just come in, solve the problem, take the offender out of there, or stop the issue in the moment, there is less buy in to make the problem stop in the long term," Cottle said.

Another difference is how they work alone. “We are more set up to operate for extended periods of time on our own to make decisions on our own and just to be out here doing law enforcement in rural communities out of radio contact, out of cell contact.”

As Cottle continues driving he stops at the parking lot to the Tolovana Hot Springs Trail, to check on some hikers heading out making sure they have everything they need before heading out into the woods. They assure him they do and he hands them his card in case they need anything.

Back in the car, Cottle continues to talk about the job, “I am driving out to a place where they are starting to like us showing up, I get awesome views like this [scenery], the State trusts me to take their law enforcement out and, you know, do it on their behalf, it’s too beautiful to be stressed out all the time.”

As Cottle pulls into Minto he first does a drive around town to make sure everyone knows he is there and no one needs anything. Then he goes to the first house on his list, no one is home. As he knocks on the door to the next house they tell him to just come in, he announces he is a Trooper and opens the door. Inside he talks with a woman about a case she was involved in, checking to see if she remembered anything else and updating her on where the case stands. He also asks if she knows of anyone in village who needs help before winter sets in, she doesn’t.

Back in the car Cottle explains that one of the things he had to get used to was people just inviting him in to their home and not coming to the door. He said he always let’s them know he is a Trooper before he comes in so they can change their mind.

His last stop in Minto is at an older man’s house who, according to Cottle, they often check on. Inside, the man makes some statements about his mental health that concern the trooper.

“Today he is just not feeling great and he made some statements about some concerning things and we offered to transport him into Fairbanks, we’re going to [offer to] give him a ride to the hospital so he can go and get checked out. Because, ultimately that’s what we want, for people to be safe.”

Cottle talks to him and asks if he would like to go to Fairbanks to get help at the hospital. After some time, the man agrees and gets into the car. On the drive back Cottle gives the man pen and paper to write with and asks if he would like any food. After the two and a half hour drive, he helps him walk into the hospital and turns him over to the medical professionals.

“We are there to help people get what they need, not to force them to get what they need. We always want to try to help them... rather than impose it upon them," Cottle said.

Manley Hot Springs will have to wait until another day but the day in Minto was a success. Cottle heads back to post to finish up some paperwork before his shift ends.

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