Attorney to troopers: borough declines to violate its own charter
January 10, 2019
The borough assembly voted unanimously to send an at times biting letter penned by its attorney to the acting director of the Alaska State Troopers saying that the assembly “respectfully declines the request to continually violate its own charter by regularly providing law enforcement services outside the Haines townsite service area.”
A nearly two-year dispute between trooper administration and the borough about which agency is responsible for providing police service outside the townsite has been simmering since the troopers transferred its blue-shirt trooper to western Alaska in early 2017.
According to borough code and charter, the police department is only funded to operate within the townsite, but troopers maintain that the police department is responsible for providing service boroughwide due to “long-standing practice,” according to one letter from the troopers to the borough.
Borough attorney Brooks Chandler disputed that claim, and wrote that local police have only ever provide mutual aid, which is “short term assistance…during emergency situations,” according to department policy. Historically, Haines Police typically provided backup when troopers requested assistance.
Assembly members questioned one sentence in Chandler’s letter after he wrote that it is “both ironic and unseemly” that the troopers ask the borough to violate its law because of its own budgetary and staffing issues. “It’s like saying it’s OK to rob a store if you really need the money,” Chandler wrote.
Assembly members Tom Morphet and Heather Lende said they felt uncomfortable with the sentence. “If I was writing a letter, I wouldn’t put it in, but I tend to be not as sharp tongued in written comments,” Lende said.
Assembly member Stephanie Scott disagreed and made a motion to approve the letter in its entirety. “I think time for us to use some cranky language to get the attention of this group of people that we’re working with, because they obviously don’t care about us.”
In his letter, Chandler cited Gov. Dunleavy’s claim that improving public safety was his administration’s number one priority, and that restoring law enforcement presence in the borough should fall within that objective. “The borough requests the decisions made by the Walker administration to compromise public safety within the Haines Borough be reconsidered and reversed in 2019.”
Dunleavy appointed Amanda Price as the new commissioner to the Department of Public Safety. Borough manager Debra Schnabel also requested by letter that the department reinstate a trooper in Haines.
The troopers have offered the borough a one-time payment of $25,000 for the borough to accept police responsibility boroughwide that the assembly has twice rejected.
A ballot proposition to create on-call police service areas in Mud Bay, Lutak and the Upper Valley failed at the polls during October’s election.
Many residents have asked the assembly to continue lobbying for the replacement of its trooper position.