Haines Borough Police Chief Bill Musser explained some of his policies on release of information at last week’s Public Safety Commission meeting after committee and audience members urged increased communication between the department and the public.

Recent friction between Musser and the media over release of information brought the issue to a head at the commission meeting.

Commission member and KHNS general manager Kay Clements said police should never be silent on an issue, even if there are restrictions on the information being released. “There is always information you can give,” she said.

Clements also said police should use the radio station and newspaper as tools for disseminating information. “I think it is our responsibility to give information to people who are going to give it out to the widest group of people,” she said.

Assembly member Debra Schnabel said police need to let the community know what is going on around town, and that extends beyond posting on Facebook. Regardless of whether the issue is illegal garbage dumping, padlock cutting or drug use, people need to know what the police department is doing, she said.

“Let’s get it out there and talk about it so the community can be part of the solution,” Schnabel said.

Commission member Bob Duis added that while he hasn’t personally heard of any problems with Musser, the community is still very skeptical of the department.

“For the past eight years, there has been problem after problem after problem,” Duis said. “You’ve got a lot of work to do to get this community back,” he told Musser.

After hearing comments from the commission and audience, Musser said he abides by Alaska’s laws on public records in terms of releasing information.

Other factors also influence how he communicates information. “I adhere to my code of ethics,” Musser said.

For example, Musser won’t use the word “suicide,” and referred to it as “the S-word” at the commission meeting.

The suicide issue arose in the context of the recent death of George Edwards, which the state Medical Examiner’s office recently ruled a self-inflicted hanging. Musser said he wouldn’t call the death a suicide because “we live in a predominantly Judeo-Christian society” where suicide is “often frowned upon” and sometimes “considered a mortal sin.”

“Just because other departments say that doesn’t mean I am going to,” Musser said.

Musser also defended the experience and education behind his decision-making, calling himself an “overeducated cop” and touting his educational experience. “I have a master’s degree,” he told the commission and audience.

Short staffing – the department is down one officer and one dispatcher – also is putting extra strain on Musser, leaving him to perform extra duties.

Musser has also been working on the car break-in case from June 2013 when more than 30 cars were rifled downtown. It is still under investigation and has fallen largely on the chief’s shoulders, as none of the other officers on staff have the experience or background to perform that investigation, Musser said.

“That case hasn’t gone dead,” Musser said.

“Knowing who did it and proving who did it” are two different things, Musser added.

The department Oct. 2 posted a “crime prevention tip” on its Facebook page informing the community of someone cutting padlocks around town.

“Recently the Haines Borough Police Department has had three attempted thefts and a burglary reported,” the crime prevention tip read. “In these instances, padlocks were cut off to gain access into a building or cash drops.”

Though the attempted thefts had been going on since the end of July, Musser didn’t publicly address the issue until early October and refused to comment two weeks ago when the CVN repeatedly tried to contact him.