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Alaska state ferries renew ride-along program for Troopers to increase law enforcement presence

 The M/V Tustumena docked at the Port of Dutch Harbor
Hope McKenney
The M/V Tustumena docked at the Port of Dutch Harbor.

A few state departments have agreed to continue a program that will allow more law enforcement on state ferries this summer. The Alaska Marine Highway System and the state Department of Public Safety announced the renewal of a ride-along agreement for Alaska State Troopers earlier this month.

The program allows Troopers to ride for free on personal trips — if space allows — in exchange for law enforcement presence.

“The purpose really is to increase the presence of Alaska State Troopers on the ferry, just to provide the public with some additional safety and security,” said Shannon McCarthy, a spokesperson for the state Department of Transportation.

McCarthy said eligible Troopers can ride along on a space-available basis, for personal travel, in exchange for assisting crew and passengers as needed.

But the Troopers don’t need to be in uniform.

“They do not necessarily have to be in uniform, but of course, they do have a duty to respond should something happen,” McCarthy said. “So that would be the arrangement where we could provide them complimentary travel, so that they would choose to travel on the Marine Highway System.”

McCarthy said renewing the program this year is not related to a change in criminal incidents aboard Alaska ferries. In fact, the Alaska Marine Highway System doesn’t track public safety incidents that happen on board.Those are reported to local law enforcement depending on the type of incident and location. That could be the U.S. Coast Guard, State Troopers or law enforcement of the closest port.

McCarthy cited recent federal drug trafficking arrests on a ferry in Ketchikan as a type of incident Troopers could assist in.

“It's more of the case that the Marine Highway System doesn't have a security force per se, they have the crew. And it does give both passengers and crew that extra level of security when we do have law enforcement officers on board,” McCarthy said.

The ride-along program does not cost the state as it’s only as space is available. Troopers can call and reserve seating under the program. Families are not eligible.

DOT last year renewed the drug enforcement K-9 unit in Bellingham, Washington, and started participating in anti-human trafficking measures, according to a statement.

McCarthy said Alaska airports and ferry systems participate in the Blue Campaign, a public awareness campaign to identify human trafficking and exploitation. She said right now that includes posting signs with a hotline number for those who may be traveling under duress and are being exploited.

“In terms of the Marine Highway, we have posted stickers in all of the restrooms,” McCarthy said. “It's called the ‘Blue Hand’ and it gives information to someone for who to contact, should they be a victim of human trafficking or feel like someone else may be in danger of human trafficking.”

The Alaska Marine Highway System started up the Trooper ride-along program last year, after it lapsed during the COVID-19 pandemic. It originally started in 2008.

Corinne Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer who hails from Oakland, California. She’s reported for KFSK in Petersburg, KHNS in Haines, and most recently as a fish reporter for KDLG’s Bristol Bay Fisheries Report.
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