March 22, 2012 | Vol. 42, No. 12

Does harbormaster need more power?

After considerable discussion, the Haines Borough Assembly has dropped the idea of making its harbormaster a “peace officer.”

That puts the local job on similar footing with the harbor chief in Skagway, but with less authority than the same job in Juneau.

Skagway harbormaster Matt O’Boyle said municipal code does not designate him as a peace officer, and he does not issue citations.

“The biggest thing that we’ve talked about with the ability to do citations is for parking, and since we have (police) officers who are here to do that, we can just contact them and have them come down and issue citations for that,” O’Boyle said. “It’s the same thing for disturbances and that kind of thing.”

But O’Boyle said public officials who lack the peace officer title still might issue citations. “A peace officer is just somebody who has gone through the police academy and has been sworn in.”

Juneau harbormaster Dwight Tajon in code has “all of the powers of a police officer of the City and Borough,” and said he can issue citations up to $300.

“As it’s been explained to me before, we have all the powers and authority, in our area, as a police officer, short of arresting an individual,” Tajon said.

He said examples of violations are parking in a spot too long, not paying parking fees, and allowing dogs to run loose on floats. Tajon said police often are involved with enforcement, and strength in numbers helps limit confrontations.

“If we have to do a response to something, we usually go down in multiples and send as many of our guys down as we can,” he said. “When it comes down to something like that, we’re mostly just calling the police department to go down, and we do the assistance with the police department.”

Haines Police chief Gary Lowe effectively blocked a request by local harbormaster Ed Barrett to be made a “peace officer.” According to Lowe, a peace officer “is synonymous with police officer,” including certification with the Alaska Police Standards Council.

Harbormaster Barrett, who has resigned effective April 1, said borough code empowers him to write citations, but he has not issued any here.

Barrett said parking is the “poster child issue” at the harbor and that, like O’Boyle in Skagway, he would turn to law enforcement for excessive violations. “We don’t have a parking problem, but by the same token, we really should have a policy and procedure concerning parking.”

Barrett said the recent peace officer discussion focused on protecting public employees, because there would be harsher penalties for assault, and “the parking issue and the peace officer issue are basically unrelated.”

“One problem that I’ve had here in this community - and I’m not sure it’s really a problem - is that everyone wants the code to cover every possibility, and that’s not what codes are supposed to do,” Barrett said. “What we need to do is establish policies and procedures under the code, which is a living document.”

Borough manager Mark Earnest last week said he’s had “preliminary discussion” with Barrett and chief Lowe about how to provide more protection for the harbormaster in an ordinance, “but we’ve got to get the three of us together at the same time.”

Norman Hughes, chair of the boat harbor advisory committee, said some harbor users have “blown off” staff when violations occur.

“The police have been called to the harbor to assist the harbor staff in having issues resolved at the harbor, as in having boats moved and things like that,” Hughes said.

Barrett said last summer in Haines, he made no requests of police to issue parking tickets, and more consistent parking enforcement would depend on better signage.

“You have to have the proper signage to let the public know what they can and cannot do,” he said. “Certainly, the parking program needs to be improved here, and if I were remaining here, that’s something I would choose to continue with.”

Barrett said most of the problems are at Letnikof Dock, with violations in long-term parking.

“People will go beyond what’s considered long-term, which is 72 hours,” he said. “They’ll leave trailers and vehicles and vehicles connected to trailers, and local people who use Letnikof Cove are very sensitive to people who leave vehicles out there for long periods of time.”