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

Police response outside of townsite under microscope

 

August 31, 2017



Haines Borough Police Chief Heath Scott warned the borough assembly not to “write legislation in blood” after some assembly and community members questioned the need for local, borough-wide police protection.

Scott spoke during a Government Affairs and Services Committee meeting organized to address a borough-wide policing ordinance the borough assembly referred back to the committee.

The ordinance, which proposes the creation of a “community safety service area,” has drawn criticism from local medical and fire volunteers whose budget would be folded into the expanded service area.

Residents outside the townsite spoke out during Tuesday’s meeting against the proposed ordinance because it would include a borough-wide vote to create a new service area as opposed to Mud Bay, Lutak and Haines Highway residents voting to form their own. Others said they are content with the current state wildlife trooper presence and don’t see the need for expanded police protection.

Scott said the need isn’t perceived because the police department is managing the situation, a service he describes as an “unfunded mandate.” Scott said his department has received 213 calls for service outside the townsite during the past year, 51 of which they’ve responded to. Scott said if police stopped responding to calls, their need would become apparent.

“If the community does not want our service there is repercussion,” Scott said. “As long as I’ve been a police officer I’ve really hated it when we’ve written legislation in blood, based on a mistake because we didn’t look at something correctly.”

Mosquito Lake resident Paul Rogers disputed the need. Rogers, who worked in a Michigan sheriff’s department for 16 years and directed a 911 county dispatch system for 15 years, said the state trooper position the state removed from Haines is not a crisis that warrants local, borough-wide police coverage. He suggested the assembly discontinue Haines Police service outside the townsite, where they’re currently funded to serve, to gauge whether or not there is a problem.

“I think you need to allow some time for you to decide if you have a problem or not and to decide what the facts are about the problem,” Rogers said. “I would suggest you discontinue the use of the Haines Police outside the townsite for a period of one year… Rely on Alaska State Troopers to respond to calls for service outside the townsite. Evaluate the results of the interim plan.”

Committee member Heather Lende also questioned the need.

“I was listening to the police…what I heard was, ‘This is a crisis, and the trooper is leaving and we’re in trouble, and it’s going to be bad and we’ve got to figure it out.’ Then we held meetings and nobody really said ‘Help. We want this.’ It wasn’t a big groundswell.”

Between 2013 and 2016 the Alaska State Troopers in Haines received 969 calls for service, 186 of which were of a criminal nature, according to state trooper data.

Committee member Tresham Gregg said there’s no way of knowing if the situation is a potential crisis if the police continue to respond to emergencies.

“We have to be proactive with our police force to stop them from going up the highway at all and see what happens, we give it a year or whatever and it will become clear,” Gregg said.

Assembly member Sean Maidy attended the meeting and said the police should continue to respond to emergency calls as they have since the trooper position was removed, but that the assembly should track 911 call data and police response to determine what it actually costs for police to respond outside the townsite.

“Couldn’t we have more of an idea of what we need to be paying out without sacrificing anyone’s safety or well-being at the same time…if (Scott’s) afraid of people getting injured and writing legislation in blood, then that’s kind of a middle ground.”

Assembly member Stephanie Scott said collecting and analyzing call data should be the first step in addressing extended police protection.

“Unless we have the data then we just don’t even know what’s going on,” Stephanie Scott said. “And that data can influence the people in the service areas, ultimately. We’re all sort of ignorant of what’s happening.”

The committee discussed recommending the assembly ask for that data.

Committee and community members suggested tracking the nature of the calls such as what geographical area a call was made from, police response and investigation time and how many of the calls were for the same individual and how many investigations ended in an arrest.

Brenda Josephson said she agreed data should be collected, but the assembly should be aware of how the data is presented.

“Data can be manipulated,” Josephson said. “We have proof, just by the comments that were mentioned here tonight from the chief of police, he is motivated to get this to happen.”

The borough-wide police ordinance’s passage would necessitate funding the police department another $120,000 a year on average for equipment and the hiring of a fifth officer. The borough is currently in the process of hiring a fourth officer.

Committee chair Ron Jackson said it appeared the consensus was to continue local police emergency response, track data for at least six months and reassess the situation afterward.

The Government Affairs and Services Committee will make a recommendation to the assembly at is Sept. 12 meeting.

Gov. Bill Walker said in a separate interview with the CVN that beside the budget shortfall issues, the state is short about 25 trooper positions statewide due to a lack of qualified applicants.

“Our goal is to have a trooper in this area,” Walker said Aug. 17. “That’s our goal. This is not a permanent change of any sort.”

 
 

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