January 23, 2014 | Volume 44, Number 3

Assembly to decide police chief

Richard Crays of Glenrock, Wyo., a finalist for the Haines Borough’s police chief job, last worked on a municipal police force 11 years ago.

In an interview during a recent visit to Haines, Crays said he wanted the job here because of his wife’s desire to live in Alaska. He previously applied for police jobs in Wasilla and Ketchikan.

Crays, 55, is a senior firearms instructor at Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy who worked two years as chief of investigations at the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles. His resume is similar to that of fellow finalist Bill Musser of Meridian, Idaho. Musser also is 55 and works in law enforcement education after a career in municipal police work.

Interim borough manager Julie Cozzi is expected to make a recommendation on a hire at Tuesday’s assembly meeting.

Crays worked as an officer and acting sergeant in Littleton, Colo., for 18 years before accepting the police chief position in Wray, Colo., in 2001. He served two years in Wray, supervising seven officers in the border city of 1,600 he described as a “very busy town.”

“There was a fair amount of drug trafficking. I was only there a month and we had to serve warrants and take down two meth labs,” he said. The job was a “learning experience,” he said, for himself and the town.

“I think they were used to having a chief who knew everyone and knew everything that was taking place and knew where all the… long-term issues might have been. For me coming in, it was like… I was able to bring in a new perspective to a lot of things. We solved some problems that I don’t think a person who had personal allegiances would be able to. If you have personal allegiances to some people in town, that kind of forces you into a position of having to have a say in stuff. I was able to say – not knowing what had happened in the past – this is the police department’s stance on this problem. When I came in, I said, ‘We fairly dispense the law.’”

Crays said his approach is, “If we can resolve a situation without someone going to jail, we should make that happen.” One problem in Wray was youths loitering on Main Street at night, urinating in doorways. Instead of staking out the street and making arrests, he convinced downtown business owners to station a port-a-pottie at the end of the street.

“Officers could say, ‘Use that (port-a-pottie) down there and you won’t see me coming down here and writing tickets.’ I’m a lot more oriented in that direction. People before me were more likely to look at enforcement instead of alternative solutions.”

“Some of the friction I ran into was that there’s just times you can’t do that. Sometimes you have to arrest people,” he said. In one such incident, he received a late-night call from an elected leader whose son was arrested drunk and carrying meth.

“I said, ‘What are the details?’ He said, ‘I don’t care what the details are, you need to fix this.’ That started the… there were two city council members that I never truly did get along with because I didn’t resolve that as other chiefs might have done in the past,” Crays said. “From that point on, those two councilors were resistant to most things I would propose. On each issue, when the city council voted, I’d hope to have five of seven councilors. I had a lot of 5-2 votes.”

Crays said he left Wray because his wife “wasn’t really comfortable” living in the area known as “Tornado Alley,” particularly after one day when high winds collapsed their garage on her car. “That really brought things to a head.”

Although he has specialty knowledge in weapons and SWAT procedures, Crays said he was drawn into beat police work after solving a series of burglaries early in his tenure at Littleton. He found small fingerprints and footprints and spent an hour talking with neighbors who had seen a person in a sweatshirt from the local middle school. In less than three hours, detectives had arrested a truant middle-schooler.

“That was a turning point. I realized how a force could work as a team. A lot of burglaries got solved because we worked as a team,” he said. “Particularly on burglaries, the longer you wait (to investigate), the more likely evidence is going to disappear. I’m not a big fan of ‘I’ll call you back on Tuesday.’ I’m going to come over to your house.”

Another case he’s proud of was locating the suspect in an attempted homicide in Wray by taking fibers off a chair in a rape victim’s home and deducing that the suspect on foot would run to a local motel.

Crays was an assistant public information officer in Littleton and said he’s comfortable working with the media, sometimes using them to solve crimes. “A lot of crimes happen when nobody sees it, but somebody knows or saw or heard about it later on. I cannot tell you how many times we put information in the paper (with a request to contact police). Between the print press and TV, they’ve been incredibly valuable to me.”

He said he’s comfortable releasing information to the press that doesn’t identify victims or minors or isn’t information needed for an “active investigation.” “I don’t believe it’s the police department’s job to censor information. Sometimes the media has to censor information, but sometimes the media is in a better situation to make that call. If we do it, we’re taking on the role of monitoring society. Our role is to protect society as best we can, to identify and investigate threats and prevent them if we can.”

Crays said he was “very impressed” by the Haines department’s three officers. “All three of them strike me as earnest and wanting to work hard. I get the impression they’re not entirely comfortable in their role. That could maybe be a matter of training.”

Crays, who also taught law enforcement at a junior college, was asked why he wanted to go back to writing parking tickets at this point in his career. “Where I’m at now is fairly comfortable. What I’m looking for is my wife lived in Anchorage for 15 months several years before I met her and she’s always wanted to move back to Alaska…I envision myself working another 10 or 12 years… This would be my last job.”

Crays said he is an avid fisherman and hunter. He and his wife commercially raise chickens, turkeys and ducks. He has an adult daughter.