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

Manager proposes new police service area ballot measure


July 19, 2018

Haines Highway, Mud Bay and Lutak residents might have the opportunity to vote whether or not they want to pay for a new police service area should the borough assembly approve a ballot measure drafted by borough manager Debra Schnabel.

The assembly discussed in a special meeting Tuesday an "On-Call Police Service Area" that, according to the draft ordinance, would encompass borough land outside of the townsite service area.

A property tax levy of .73 mills would pay for services that police chief Heath Scott estimated to cost about $70,000 annually. Police services would include "Request for services in response to situations that may be described as crimes in progress, public health and safety risks, property crimes and liability-related issues," the draft ordinance says. "Services may include traffic control and enforcement or patrols based on events, citizen complaints or a perceived need. Police dispatches and officers will employ discretion to satisfy the purpose of ensuring public safety."

Schnabel cited six months of calls for service data, from Jan 1 to June 30 of this year, that she said supported a need for expanded police service. Subtracting calls for burn permits, residents logged 158 calls although not all of those were of a criminal nature. Non-criminal calls included 23 ambulance calls, 19 vehicle stops, seven wildlife calls, and eight 911 hang-ups.

"Compare that to the calls you see from the state troopers from 2013 to 2016 and you'll see that the number of calls for service outside the townsite are at least in keeping, if not greater, than the calls that were made to the state troopers," Schnabel said. "So there's definitely a need in the outside areas."

From 2014 to 2016, the Alaska State Troopers received an average of 46 calls for service in the Chilkat Valley each year that were criminal and an average of 220 calls that were non-criminal, according to AST data.

Suspected criminal calls outside the townsite directed to Haines Police in the past six months included one report of child abuse, three reports of assault or domestic violence, two reports of driving while intoxicated, six reports of theft, three reports of harassment and two reports of trespass.

Not including burn permits, Haines Highway residents account for 57 percent of the non-townsite calls to police in the past six months.

The ordinance, as it stands, would create one expanded police service area outside the townsite. Sean Gaffney said during public comment he'd prefer if residents in each geographical region-Haines Highway, Lutak and Mud Bay- had the opportunity to vote by area.

Assembly member Brenda Josephson critiqued a section of the ordinance that makes the Haines Borough Public Safety Commission the board of directors for the proposed police service area. She said she would vote against the ordinance unless the board was made up of the residents who live in the service area.

"I think it's very important that if we put it on the ballot the ordinance needs to specify that there will be a new board set up and it will be made up of residents of the area," Josephson said.

Assembly member Tom Morphet said he found the effort unnecessary because residents haven't told the assembly they want police service. He said in areas without police service, like Gustavus, criminals are deterred by having to "deal with your neighbor" if someone commits a crime against them.

"I think it's another case of the government coming in and saying 'We're from the government and we're here to help and it's not obvious to me that the people want our help in the form of this vote," Morphet said. "If in fact we really want to ask them we could give them an initiative petition and say 'See if you can get the number of signatures you need to get it on the ballot.'"

Long-time resident Chuck Mitman said during public comment that voting to expand police service is a "conscious decision" and that people will make the right decision given the opportunity. He added that he was concerned about Morphet's comments on neighbors deterring crime.

"I'm really freaked out when I hear an assembly member exalt the virtues of vigilantism with our neighbors," Mitman said.

It's time to let the people vote, assembly member Sean Maidy said. "The data's been gathered, the question's been asked I think it's just finally time we ask the people what they want," Maidy said. "That's the only way we're ever going to be able to come to any kind of decision. Whether or not you agree with the decision, if you're in the affected area, vote."

Greg Podsiki, Joe Ordónez, Richard Buck and Paul and Judith Rogers all spoke in support of putting the vote on the Oct 2 ballot. Buck also wanted the vote to be separated by region.

Rogers, a former police officer and 911 dispatch director, said he favors some level of police service, but that regular patrols were unnecessary. He said it was naïve to expect no police service or full police service, especially as many people live so far from the townsite.

Some residents and assembly members have been critical of police patrols outside the townsite during the past year. Police chief Heath Scott said patrols aim to change driving behavior and he doesn't plan to curtail patrols.

"If we can reduce speed we can reduce accidents," Scott said. "If we can reduce accidents we can reduce fatalities. There is a method to the madness and I think it is reasonable. We give very, very, very few tickets. I've expressed to my staff and I've expressed to this community that I am interested changing behavior and not filling coffers. And I think I'm going to be that way for the rest of my career."

The new ordinance will be introduced at July the 24 regular assembly meeting.


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