The question has been looming since December: will Haines lose its only Alaska State Trooper? The final answer is yes. The division chief says amid a shrinking budget, Haines’ level of crime isn’t great enough to maintain the local trooper post. Instead, funding for the Haines position will be moved to the Violent Offenders Unit in Bethel.
“It is final,” said Colonel James Cockrell, director of the Alaska State Troopers.
He says his budget has been cut by millions of dollars in the past two years and more reductions may be coming. But even if the budget were to stay status quo, Cockrell says they’d still move the Haines position to Bethel.
“We don’t have the luxury of putting them in communities that [do not] have the level of crime that some of the other ones do, where we’re really struggling to keep up,” Cockrell said. “If you look out in Western Alaska where we’re struggling to keep up with sexual assault and sexual abuse of a minor cases, in those areas where we’re doing felony-level investigations.”
Haines’ single ‘blue-shirt’ trooper patrolled and responded to calls outside of the townsite. That includes neighborhoods out the Haines Highway, Mud Bay Road and Lutak Road.
Haines still has a wildlife trooper, but he is not obligated to respond to emergency calls 24/7 and his primary responsibility is to enforce hunting and fishing regulations.
Cockrell says the state feels that the Haines Police Department should take over as the primary law enforcement agency for the entire borough.
“The Haines Police Department should patrol inside the Haines Borough,” Cockrell said.
Haines isn’t the first community in which AST has tried to shift law enforcement responsibility to police departments. The same thing happened in Girdwood.
“We need to address how we are going to operate outside the roadway,”said Haines Police Chief Heath Scott.
His department works primarily in the townsite. But since the trooper post has been vacant the past couple months, it’s fallen to the police to respond to emergency calls in the outer borough. Scott says that costs money that the borough has not budgeted.
“The longer we don’t resolve this matter, the longer this unfunded requirement causes a burden to us,” Scott said.
The police department is already more than $30,000 over-budget for the first half of the current fiscal year. The chief and interim manager say much of the overspending comes down to overtime. Scott says the department is stretched too thin. He is advocating for the borough to hire a fifth officer.
Borough officials have talked about asking the state for reimbursement to cover expenses the police incurs when responding to calls that previously would have been handled by the trooper. Cockrell says he’s not sure if that’s possible.
“They can give us a ballpark figure of what they’re looking for,” Cockrell said. “But again, the state’s position is it’s the borough’s responsibility.”
How the borough will pay for this new responsibility remains to be seen.