Heath Scott started last week as the Haines Borough Chief of Police. He’s done a lot of meeting and greeting his colleagues and members of public in that time, and has started fleshing out future plans for the department.
Scott says his arm and shoulder are pretty sore following his first few days on the job from all the waving and handshaking.
“The people are absolutely the jewels of Haines,” he says.
Scott moved with his wife and two of five children last weekend from Washington, D.C., and took the helm at the Haines PD last Monday.
“It was surprising to see so many smiles and so many waves, and that people take the time to chat it up. The foundation is outstanding here. When you have good people in a community, there isn’t anything that you can’t do.”
Scott was chosen out of a pool of 27 who applied for the job in the spring. He made the top three, but final negotiations fell apart when Scott requested more than the borough was willing to pay for moving expenses. Eventually, both sides agreed on $15,000 for moving, a $95,000 salary and a three-year commitment. Scott says he was dogged in his quest to come to Haines, because he likes the community, and he wants to be able to spend more time with his family.
And so starts another chief’s tenure.
Scott says his approach early on is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. As in, he has no immediate plans to implement big changes, nor is he going to simply sit back and observe. Scott joins the ranks of brand new borough higher-ups Tony Habra, who started this month as the school district’s superintendent, and borough manager Bill Seward who started last month.
“It’s important for a police chief, it’s important for people in the public safety community to wake up every morning and say ‘What’s important today? What’s important right now?’ There are some things that I want to sit back and observe, and then there are some things that, by virtue of the job, I need to be involved in directly.”
He says he wants to focus on educating the community in a polite and caring way.
The police department has had its share of turnover and shortcomings in recent years, all of which Scott says he’s aware of. Taking on the challenge of continuing to rebuild trust is something he says he’ll do by listening and being compassionate. He says within the department, the staff – from officers to dispatchers – are doing what they’re supposed to. But there are always budgetary restraints, just like there is always the need for new equipment and trained staff.
“Everybody is doing the right thing to the extent that they can, with what they have,” he says. “It’s going to be a lot of working with the borough management, working with finance, looking at grants and seeing if we can get the monies that we need to support some of the change that’s necessary.”
Scott acknowledges that his big-city methods might have to be watered-down a little here, but keeping the peace is keeping the peace, no matter the size of the community. He says he wants to encourage the public to intervene if they see crime happening.
“I understand that living in a small community, people take great pride in not locking their doors. And they take great pride in leaving their keys in their car. I don’t want to chip away at that pride in any way. It is important for me not to bring the big city here.
“At the same time, I’m not ignorant of best practices. And best practices tend to work regardless of the size of the agency.”
Scott worked eight years as the deputy police chief for the D.C. Protective Services Division. He called the division a “boutique agency.” He worked as a police officer and deputy sheriff in the mid-‘90s in Arizona and has a law-enforcement-focused education.
He says his philosophy when it comes to policing is simple:
“We all live together. We all row in the same direction.”
With plans to stick around for the long haul, Scott says he’s hoping to add stability to the force, and the community. His door is always open, he says, and he’s looking forward to more handshakes.