This week, Haines Interim Borough Manager Brad Ryan announced that the police blotter is coming back. The police chief hopes it will help build community support as he lobbies for an increased law enforcement budget.
About five months ago, Police Chief Heath Scott stopped providing the department’s usual blotter to the local newspaper. Scott had been on the job about four months. He said the blotter reflected poorly on the department because of the amount of trivial calls it included.
“There was a lot of people in the department that thought it was just comical and it made the department look silly,” Scott said.
The Chilkat Valley News, which prints the blotter, protested Scott limiting the information.
Since then, the police have provided weekly reports that include arrests and more serious incidents. The reports do not include pocket dials, verbal warnings, or minor disturbances.
Scott’s decision to limit the blotter was met with mostly negative reactions in letters to the editor in the paper and at public meetings. At a recent public safety commission meeting, Commissioner Bill McCord raised the subject.
“What happened to the police blotter?” McCord asked. “A lot of people, they’re not willing to go to meetings, but they’ll read everything in the police blotter, for better or for worse.”
Scott responded, saying that his department has limited manpower and money.
“We’re $63,000 over budget. I’m not going to pay somebody to sit and use their time to draft a police blotter to give to the papers,” Scott said. “As important as I think that is, I’m a steward of the people’s money. The budget’s not right. When we get the budget right, I want to give this community their blotter.”
The police department went more than $30,000 over budget in the first half of this fiscal year. That prompted Scott to ask the borough assembly for a $63,000 budget amendment to cover the disparity through the rest of the fiscal year. The assembly approved the request in a 5-1 vote in mid-March. During that discussion, Assembly member Heather Lende said she hoped the department restored the blotter.
“And the reason why is I think it helps residents see how busy the police are and what they’re doing, and so much of it is community policing,” Lende said. “Somebody calls to get a welfare check, somebody calls because there’s a bear in their garbage. And I know that sometimes people think it’s jokey or something, but I think it’s also reassuring to citizens that police are there helping us and answering the phone calls of somebody who’s looking out their window concerned about something.”
It looks like Lende and other residents’ requests to bring back the blotter will be fulfilled.
Starting the second week of April, interim manager Ryan says a more detailed blotter will be back in the paper. But it’s not happening without some extra help from a borough staff person outside of the police department.
Ryan says executive assistant to the manager Krista Kielsmeier offered to help compile the blotter. Kielsmeier is a former Chilkat Valley News reporter who has experience putting the blotter together.
Chief Scott says as he goes into FY 18 budget talks asking the assembly for more funding, he needs community support.
“If this is something the community holds dear and it’s gonna get them to listen to us a second time, then we’re gonna try and make them as happy as we can,” Scott said. “We’re not naïve to this process, we can’t have portions of this community that distrust us or think we’re holding back information if we’re asking for more budgetary dollars.”
Scott says he’s still concerned about the blotter reflecting poorly on the police. So, the department may continue to leave out some of the more frivolous calls. Scott says the new blotter will probably be somewhere between the detailed rundown it was before and the more curated report it is now.