Former park ranger starts as police officer
November 24, 2021
Travis Russell turned in his badge and gun with Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation a few weeks ago, but he wasn't off duty or unarmed for long. Russell joined the Haines Borough Police Department on Nov. 15, marking the beginning of a new era for the sturdy and affable man who worked as Haines' state parks ranger for six and a half years.
In an interview with the CVN, Russell underscored his commitment to compassionate policing, his love for Haines and his desire to help the department address bear-attractant issues through both education and enforcement.
"My philosophy in terms of dealing with the public is that if you have to arrest somebody, you restore their dignity immediately once you have them in cuffs, regardless of what it took to get them in those cuffs," Russell said. "I grew up in small towns. I function well in them. It's very different than working in large departments. There's a lot more room for understanding and compassion, as well as building a rapport with the people you know you're going to come in contact with in the community."
Raised in Arizona, Russell moved to Alaska in 1999 as a member of the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks. He attended the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and worked as a non-commissioned officer at the University of Alaska Police Department. He also did a short stint with the Fairbanks Police Department. Then he spent 12 years with Alaska State Parks - in Haines, Valdez, Kodiak and Fairbanks.
As a park ranger, Russell was tasked with enforcing state law, and he was trained to carry and use firearms. In addition to experience, Russell said he brings to the new job "compassion for the community" and "a pretty good rapport," as someone who has lived in Haines and worked with residents for several years. "I would not consider myself one to be heavy-handed," he said, adding that, as a ranger, he wrote only about one ticket for every 40 warnings.
Russell declined to comment on why he left state parks, saying only that "it was the right time to make a switch." He said he waited until his major projects, mainly trail maintenance and grants, were finished before leaving the division. Russell recently married and bought a house in Haines and, with a zeal for the borough's wildlife, natural beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities, didn't consider a job anywhere else.
"I want to continue to serve the community here," Russell said. "I just feel like (the police department) is where I can apply my skill set. I think I'm a good fit for the community as well as the department."
Russell said he worked in tandem with the police department when they requested his backup on calls, ranging from death investigations to barricaded individuals.
"Travis has worked very closely with our team in his role with State Parks," police chief Heath Scott wrote in an email to the CVN. "Additionally, he is known by our community. His prior experience, outstanding character and work ethic are exactly what we expect in our organization."
As for public safety needs that Russell would most like to address, he pointed to bear-attractant issues. He said more education and enforcement are necessary across the borough. "With my experience, I always try to educate people first, but there reaches a point when education is no longer effecting change," Russell said. He emphasized that enforcement needs to be consistent and that equivalent violations need to be cited in equivalent ways.
"I do bring years of experience working closely with mitigating human and wildlife encounters, here in Haines and elsewhere, engaging in dialog and working in cooperation with partner agencies and the public for the protection of wildlife while promoting public safety," Russell later wrote in an email to the CVN.
Russell will do three months of field training before patrolling solo.