The Haines Borough Assembly is exploring options to provide police protection to neighborhoods previously served by the Alaska State Troopers. But some assembly members think the borough first needs to fight the Troopers’ decision to leave Haines.
Earlier this year, Alaska State Troopers said due to budget cuts and a relatively low crime rate, they would remove their ‘blue-shirt’ post from Haines.
There is still a ‘brown-shirt’ or wildlife trooper, in the area. But many emergency calls in outlying parts of the borough have fallen to the local police department.
That’s a problem, because by code, the Haines Police Department is only supposed to serve the townsite service area, not farther-out neighborhoods.
Assemblywoman Heather Lende brought up the issue Tuesday night.
“The townsite right now pays for the police and that’s the only place by law we can do it,” Lende said. “And what’s happening is bit by bit [police] are getting called out, and it’s sort of happening by creep rather than by code. And I don’t believe people in the townsite should be paying for police in the whole borough.”
Service areas outside of the townsite could vote to tax themselves for police response. But so far, those residents have not brought a proposal forward.
Lende wanted to direct manager Debra Schnabel to draw up possible ballot questions pertaining to police service outside the townsite.
But Assemblyman Tom Morphet called that premature.
“Public safety is an essential service of the State of Alaska,” Morphet said. “The State has failed us by not funding what it has always funded here. But that does not mean the legislature will always fail us.”
Morphet said the borough should band together with other communities that have lost their troopers and lobby the legislature.
He said Haines moving forward with a police protection ballot question would be counterproductive.
“For us to respond in this way, I think basically forfeits any efforts we would make to have the state assume its rightful obligation to provide public safety for the people of the Haines Borough,” Morphet said.
But the Troopers seem keen to let go of their responsibility over Haines. Trooper chief, Colonel Hans Brinke, agreed to compensate the borough $25,000, with the stipulation that the Haines Police would provide law enforcement for the entire borough and develop a funding source for the additional duties.
The borough tried to alter the contract, but Brinke wouldn’t budge. So, the assembly decided not to sign off on it. That means the borough will not get that $25,000 payment.
Assemblywoman Stephanie Scott agreed that the borough should “lobby hard” for the Troopers to return.
“I am very upset with the State of Alaska for withdrawing our trooper,” Scott said.
But Lende said the borough has the responsibility to look into alternatives. She said the outlying areas of the borough can’t just be left in limbo while they hope for the state to do something.
“It’s our job as an assembly to help make sure our community is safe,” Lende said. “And that people who are driving along our corridors or living beyond our immediate townsite have protection.”
The majority of the assembly agreed to ask that the manager draw up potential police protection ballot questions. That motion passed with Morphet and Sean Maidy opposed.
If a question does make it onto the ballot, it will be up to voters to determine whether police service should be expanded beyond the townsite.