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

Voters to decide on police service areas


August 23, 2018

Voters in Mud Bay, Lutak and Haines Highway who live outside the townsite will have the option to create on-call police service areas in their neighborhoods when they head to the ballot box in October.

The Haines Borough Assembly voted 4-2 Tuesday to approve an ordinance that, upon voter approval, will levy up to 1 mill in property taxes to pay for a police service area, but not before making two substantial amendments.

Upper valley resident Holly Thomas said the borough should reallocate sales tax funding to pay for the emergency services they currently receive. She also said there were too many unknowns to create such a ballot proposition. “What if we say no and there is a murder out there or there is a child abuse case out there?” Thomas asked. “Are they going to send a trooper or does it go uninvestigated? I think you guys need to postpone this a little bit until you can get those kinds of things worked out.”

After hearing concerns from other upper valley residents last week about vague language, assembly member Brenda Josephson made an amendment to change the on-call police service area’s definition.

“On-call police services are police services in response to verbal or written reports of situations described as crimes in progress, public health and safety risks, or property crimes,” the proposed ordinance stated. “Services may include traffic control and enforcement or patrols based on schedule events, citizen complaints or a need request.”

Josephson proposed the language to define services in response to “situations involving imminent threats to life and/or property, or requiring the investigation of major crimes such as felonies.” The changes went on to include events involving serious injury or death and requests from ambulance or fire agencies. The language states police would process citizens’ reports of all other crimes by phone or in person at the police station. It also provides service for scheduled events when an event sponsor requests police service. The sponsor must pay for the cost of those services.

Borough manager Debra Schnabel said she was confused by the language stating police would process citizen reports. “With all due respect I’m concerned a large part of the opposition to this proposal for an on-call police service area is fear or concerns that the police will not be discrete, that they will be unable to make judgements about what is a fair call for service,” Schnabel said. “I don’t share that concern. I think that discretion has always been there with the police department.”

The intent behind the language is that if the situation does not involve imminent threats, the police won’t drive out the road, Josephson said.

She also made an amendment that stated if the Alaska State Troopers reinstated a position in town, the on-call police service area would be eliminated.

Assembly member Sean Maidy said the changes were too substantial to approve without notifying voters of the change.

Assembly member Heather Lende said she’d vote for the amendments to ensure the question made it to the ballot. “I recognize…that it’s flawed but I think it’s better than not putting it on the ballot,” Lende said.

The changes would make great policy for existing police service up the highway, assembly member Tom Morphet said, and that the assembly should settle with the status quo and not go to a vote. The police have been responding to emergency services up the highway, a service police chief Heath Scott has described as an unfunded requirement, for more than a year after the state troopers moved the local officer to western Alaska.

According to borough code and charter, the police are only funded to operate within the townsite.

Maidy said it’s unfair to ask the police to keep responding without budgeting for the service. “You’re trying to get blood from a stone,” Maidy said. “They’ve been bleeding for us for long enough. They’re just asking for some support and whether we’re going to give it or not I think is a decision to be made by the people.”

The police are breaking the law by responding outside the townsite, assembly member Stephanie Scott said. “And we are not enforcing the law and that has been going on for quite some time and it is wrong and it puts them in an ethically questionable state that they have to deal with all the time,” Scott said.

Assembly member Tresham Gregg, who voted against the ordinance in its first public hearing, changed his mind and voted to pass it. He said it was time for the issue to go before the voters.

Scott estimated it would cost $70,000 to provide on-call service for all three neighborhoods, but those costs have yet to be broken down by region.


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