Alaska Gov. Bill Walker says he hopes the shutdown of Haines’ trooper post is not a long-term solution. But the head of troopers says right now, he has no plans to reinstate the position. The lack of a clear answer may further confuse Haines’ exploration of an expanded police service area.
Walker was in Haines on July 29. It was his first visit since the borough lost its only Alaska State Trooper several months ago.
In a brief interview, Walker said the main challenge the troopers are facing is in recruitment.
“The funding’s there, we just can’t find the troopers,” Walker said. “We just can’t find the folks to fill in the positions and make it through the academy.”
Walker says the state is about 20 troopers short right now.
“It’s not a matter of necessarily shifting it onto the municipalities, we just don’t have the troopers, is the problem,” Walker said. “So I hate to say it, some areas that really require a lot of law enforcement activity really get the attention. So I know that that’s not a long-term solution.”
Walker saying it’s not a long-term solution seems contrary to statements from the trooper division itself.
“Right now I don’t have any intention of putting someone back into Haines,” said Colonel Hans Brinke. He inherited the Haines’ trooper decision from his predecessor, James Cockrell.
“But we always have to evaluate,” Brinke said. “If the recruitment efforts are successful, we’re able to fill all our positions, the funding comes back, we will always evaluate the needs of the communities that are out there.”
This puts Haines leaders in a difficult position.
The local police department is only funded to serve a small portion of the borough, the townsite service area. So, the assembly is looking into creating an expanded police service area. That would pay for law enforcement response in neighborhoods previously served by the trooper.
Would establishment of an expanded police service area lower the chances of the troopers reinstating the position in Haines? Here’s Brinke’s response:
“Well if [the borough is] going to be responsible for it and they’ve accepted that responsibility, that would be a decision point we would need to take into consideration.”
Brinke’s message was that a lot of things have to work out for the Haines’ post to come back. In addition to the troopers’ recruitment problems, Haines has a comparatively low crime rate and the state doesn’t have a long-term financial plan.
Gov. Walker also put blame on that.
“You know, we don’t have a full fiscal plan and that’s what we need,” Walker said. “We’re living off of savings. So until we get the fiscal gap not necessarily completely closed but have the structure for it to become closed, I’m sure we’ll look again at those issues.”
The discussion about how to deal with Haines’ trooper loss continues at an assembly committee meeting Tuesday night.