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

Police chief calls on state troopers to clarify position


September 7, 2017 | View PDF

Haines Borough Police Chief Heath Scott said resistance to borough-wide police expansion is due to “misinformation that’s being circulated.”

“I think one misconception is how much skin does (Alaska State Troopers) still have in the game,” Scott told the Haines Public Safety Commission last week. “If there is truly something dramatic that happens out the road, outside of the townsite, will they enter into an investigation? Will they deal with the situation? When will the (wildlife) trooper be able to provide support and what is his capability long-term?”

Haines Highway residents, and others who live outside the townsite, have largely resisted a recent ordinance that came before the Haines Borough Assembly last month, which proposed creating a new Community Safety Service Area.

During public comment at several meetings those residents have said the need doesn’t exist to create a new police service area encompassing the entire borough. They’ve also criticized the borough-wide vote that would create the proposed service area rather than allowing each geographical region to establish one on their own.

Scott addressed assertions from many residents outside the townsite that the state troopers still have jurisdiction and the local wildlife trooper, Trent Chwialkowski is still available to respond to calls for service.

“The misconception I see in the community is they think because we have one (wildlife) trooper that one guy is going to service the entire borough outside of the townsite,” Scott said. “I don’t need to be clarifying AST’s message. AST needs to clarify that.”

Calls for 911 service get routed through Ketchikan to the Haines Borough Police Department and then forwarded to Chwialkowski. But Haines dispatch has never forwarded a criminal complaint from out the highway to Chwialkowski for investigation.

In a separate interview with the CVN, Chwialkowski said since the state trooper left in December, he has never headed a criminal investigation on his own and has only assisted Haines Police on emergency calls when asked.

Chwialkowski said while his priority is public safety, the Haines community shouldn’t rely on him to respond to calls for service outside the townsite.

“Although I’m an asset, it’s not an asset they can consistently count on,” Chwialkowski said. “It’s not my choice, it’s just the way my role as a wildlife trooper is. It’s pretty inaccurate, though, when they say ‘Hey we have a wildlife trooper who patrols this area. A lot of that is wildlife and fishing specific.”

The state does not budget standby hours for the wildlife trooper and he is often patrolling Haines, Skagway and Lynn Canal waters or local highways for fishing and hunting violations.

Scott also told the public safety commission that a misconception in the community exists because many people don’t know if a highway trooper will or will not return.

Alaska State Trooper director Col. James Cockrell, now retired, informed Mayor Jan Hill this spring the troopers were moving the position to Bethel and it was the troopers position that the “Haines Police Department will be the primary law enforcement agency within the Haines Borough boundaries,” Cockrell wrote in a letter.

Commission member Michael Fullerton, a seasonal public safety employee, said the state trooper position couldn’t be more clear.

“We as a community should not suffer under any delusion that they’re going to simply change their mind,” Fullerton said. “As a community we could insist that they change their mind probably to no great result.”

The troopers also withdrew positions from areas like Girdwood around Anchorage. Cockrell sent a similar message to Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowtiz, stating police responsibility outside Anchorage’s police service area belonged to the municipality.

Instead of accepting Cockrell’s opinion as policy, Berkowitz pushed back.

In an April letter to Cockrell, Berkowitz cited Title 29 code in Alaska Statutes dealing with municipal mandatory areawide powers, which don’t include enforcing the state’s criminal law or policing state highways.

“The State Legislature may have the power to change that arrangement,” Berkowitz said. “The Alaska State Troopers do not.”

Haines Police are supposed to provide service inside the service area it’s funded by, according to state and municipal code

Berkowitz reinforced those codes in his letter to Cockrell.

“The Anchorage Police Department is funded by tax dollars collected, not from taxpayers across the Municipality, but from property-tax payers within the Anchorage Metropolitan Police Service Area,” Berkowtiz said. “State law provides that property taxes collected from a service area are ‘for functions limited to the service area.’”

The Haines Borough also uses sales tax to fund its police department, which conflicts with borough code.

Instead of allowing Anchorage police to respond to emergency calls only, Anchorage contracted with the City of Whittier to provide police protection to the Girdwood service area at a cost of $618,000 a year.

Unlike Anchorage, there isn’t a nearby police agency in Haines to enter in a similar contract. It could pay for police service outside the townsite on a case-by-case basis.

The Haines Government Affairs and Services Committee last month discussed collecting and analyzing data on police response outside the townsite to, in part, determine how much that would cost.

In the meantime, Haines Police will continue to respond to emergency calls for service.


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