Law enforcement is a difficult job anywhere, but the Alaska State Troopers face challenges not encountered by other law enforcement agencies in the U.S. One fifth the size of the contiguous U.S., Alaska consists of 586,412 square miles of diverse territory that experiences extreme weather conditions. State Troopers cope with blizzards, hundreds of inches of snowfall, avalanches, winds in excess of 100 mph, sub-zero temperatures, and heavy rainfall. The state is filled with rugged mountains, massive glaciers, tundra, forests, and more than 3,000 rivers, more than 3 million lakes and a coastline of 6,640 miles. The vast expanses of the state, combined with the terrain and weather, create a significant challenge for troopers.
The evolution of law enforcement in Alaska began in the mid 1800's with the United States Army and Navy being the sole law enforcement authority throughout the vast region. Later, United States Marshals were appointed but were far too few in number. It was the tumult of the gold rush period, both at Skagway and Nome, which first brought to focus the need for an additional law enforcement organization to supplement the U.S. Marshal's Office which would continue to bear the responsibility for law enforcement in Alaska for the next forty years.
In 1941 the 15th Territorial Legislature established the Territory of Alaska Highway Patrol for the purpose of enforcing the traffic code - but did not provide the new organization with police authority. In 1945, as lawlessness continued to thrive outside the jurisdiction of local police departments, the members of the Alaska Highway Patrol were deputized as Special Deputy U.S. Marshals. In 1948 the Highway Patrol was given the full authority of peace officers to enforce the laws of the Territory.
By the early 1950's, the federal Department of Justice recognized the increasing law enforcement needs of the Territory, particularly in the bush areas of Alaska. The Territorial Legislature responded in 1953 by establishing the Alaska Territorial Police to provide law enforcement services for the entire Territory. Total strength: 36 officers. The Alaska Highway Patrol had already gained a reputation as an elite corps, and formal training became a hallmark of the new Territorial Police. As the officers began to serve in remote posts, they gained a reputation for integrity and capability - a reputation which has been carried forward to the present day.
With the advent of statehood in 1959, the name of Alaska's law enforcement agency was changed to the Alaska State Police and the organization became a division of the Department of Public Safety. The new State Police added 13 former U.S. Marshals and 10 new recruits to their ranks, increasing their number to 78 commissioned officers. During this time, the State Police would provide "contract officers" for communities willing to pay for trained law enforcement. Kotzebue, Kenai-Soldotna, Seward, Palmer, and Bethel were among the communities to pay for a "contract officer" from the State Police.
During Governor Wally Hickel's first administration in 1967, the name was changed to the Alaska State Troopers. Under commissioner Mel Personett, the Troopers focused their work in areas of Alaska not being served by community police, and began to offer more sophisticated services to law enforcement organizations statewide. Also in 1967 the Public Safety Training Academy saw its first year of operation.
Today, the Alaska State Troopers number approximately 300 commissioned and 147 civilian personnel. The major components of the Division are the Alaska Bureau of Investigation
investigates major crimes and enforces bootlegging and illegal drug distribution throughout Alaska; Judicial Services is responsible for prisoner transports and providing security for Alaska courts; and the Alaska Bureau of Highway Patrol keeps Alaska's highways safe by their presence on state roadways and through public education campaigns. The detachments are headquartered in Ketchikan, Palmer, Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Soldotna.