Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Police budget boosted by $63K

 


The Haines Borough Assembly voted 5-1 to provide its police department an additional $63,000 for recent and anticipated personnel costs in excess of the department’s budget for the current year.

Starting in December, chief Heath Scott pushed for the increase, saying it was needed due to an increase in cases and emergency calls from up the highway. The budget for the four-man department, starting July 1,was $520,270.

Assembly member Tom Morphet proposed funding police expenses to date, or roughly half the request, but that motion failed 4-2, with only Morphet and member Tresham Gregg in support.

Morphet challenged police data that points to rising crime within the borough. Scott had provided a chart showing 44 criminal cases in 2015 increasing to 76 cases in 2016. Morphet argued that the force had only two full-time officers in late 2015, but those numbers doubled in 2016.

“I question whether in fact we’re in the middle of a rise in crime,” Morphet said. “I think we’re in the middle of a rise in enforcement, which is good. I have no problem with enforcement.”

He also noted that a similar increase in crimes in 2006 (from 75 in 2005 to 75 in just the first six months of 2006) was attributed to more aggressive enforcement by a court official and by former chief Greg Goodman.

Assembly member Ron Jackson voted against Morphet’s amendment but said his points warranted future discussion. He said not funding the current police budget was inappropriate. “We’re going to be looking at the (FY18) budget in a few weeks probably, lets tackle some questions and concerns then,” Jackson said.

Assembly member Mike Case said that because a state trooper no longer patrols out the road after the state moved the position to Bethel, the community is going to have “bite the bullet” and enforce to the border.

“If there is a domestic violence issue out at 30-whatever-mile and we have to send not one but…two law enforcement officials out there, because you can’t send just one, we’re going to have to do it and that costs a lot of money and we can’t not respond to it,” Case said.

Assembly member Heather Lende echoed Jackson and said the meeting’s discussion shouldn’t be about future police plans but about the money that’s already been spent.

Lende said a conversation about community policing should take place as the assembly considers next year’s budget priorities.

“I have real questions about how (the budget was exceeded) but I don’t think the process that made that happen should end up punishing the police department,” Lende said.

Interim borough manager Brad Ryan said police turnover is a “systemic problem” that needs to be solved and cited 18 officers and five chiefs who have come through Haines since he moved to town in 2008.

He said “having enough officers and allowing them a quality of life so we’re not always paying a lot of standby” would help create an effective police force. He also said the police department needs assembly direction regarding patrolling out the road.

Presenting data to the public safety commission last year, Scott cited a 14 percent increase in calls for service and a 24 percent increase in reported monthly cases between 2015 and 2016.

Based on Alaska State Trooper data, calls are likely to increase.

In 2016, the Alaska State Troopers received 215 calls for service, 46 of which were for criminal activity including theft, vandalism and sexual assault.

Ryan has directed townsite police to respond only to emergency calls out the road.

Scott addressed the assembly after member Tresham Gregg and Lende asked for the department to provide the full police report to the Chilkat Valley News after Scott limited what the department released last fall.

Scott told the public safety commission on March 7, “When we get that budget right, I want to give this community their blotter.”

When he discontinued providing the blotter last fall, Scott cited the negative image the report gives to the department and now says he can’t produce the blotter without proper resources. Haines is the lowest-funded department in Southeast Alaska, Scott said Tuesday.

“When you ask us to do things like the blotter, we divert our resources away from other things that are important,” Scott said.

“If we are appropriately resourced, there are many things that we can do. There are many services we can provide. It is too easy to talk about community policing. You have to talk about the resources behind community policing and it’s always time. One officer on duty at a time does not have time to community police all of it,” Scott said.

Scott added that many officers involved in police shootings tend to not receive enough sleep and work too many hours.

“They always hear police shootings when one officer is involved,” Scott said. “Very few times do we have an opportunity where two officers are involved in this borough. I just want you to think about these things.”

Scott’s wife, Candice Scott, gave an impassioned plea for the assembly to consider the safety of the borough police officers as it discusses department budget needs.

“While you’re talking about the blotter, I’m crying out for you to listen to make sure that my husband comes home safe at night,” she said.

Ryan will soon schedule community meetings to discuss policing outside the townsite.

 
 

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