Former Idaho cop Chris Brown was sworn in this week as an officer of the Haines Borough Police Department. That brings the tally up to two permanent officers, an acting chief, and a temporary officer.
Brown has only been here for two weeks or so, but he says he’s already got a pretty good handle on the good and not-so-good aspects of the community. One of his first observations, he says, was the abundance of drugs and alcohol in such a small place.
“There’s a tremendous amount of good people here, but there’s still a lot of people here that are obviously addicted to drugs, some heavy alcoholics, things like that,” Brown says. “It seems like every beautiful spot I pull out and stop to take my dog, there’s little liquor bottles all over the ground and beer cans everywhere. I’m from a beautiful place, and this is an even more beautiful place and I hate to see that it looks like that.”
He says since everything is new for him, he can offer a fresh perspective, and many of his interactions have been positive. He adds that he’d like to sit down and talk with members of the public to get know more about the residents and the issues.
One demographic he’s interested in chatting with is bar-owners and bar-goers.
“And make sure that the people who working the bars and running the bars know that it’s illegal to serve an intoxicated person, that it’s illegal to have an intoxicated person on their property. Most bars just don’t realize that, and that’s OK, because at first glance it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s there to keep people safe and the last thing we want is a DUI crash or just anybody getting arrested.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, around 30 percent of fatal crashes from 2005 to 2014 in Alaska were alcohol related. Nationally, according the Administration, about 10,000 people were killed in drunk -driving crashes in 2015.
“And where I’m from, there are currently four manslaughter cases from alcohol-related stuff,” Brown says. “And now people are going back and suing these bars, because we have the exact same laws in Idaho. That’s the last thing we want is for a business to be hit like that because it’s justifiable to sue a bar for millions of dollars for putting an intoxicated person behind the wheel. We’re just hoping to curb all that.”
But to really curtail drunk driving, Brown says the police department needs more officers and more support.
“Having a good time certainly isn’t worth losing your entire life over, whether it’s spending the rest of your life in jail or having to look that family in the courtroom in the eye and explain why their daughter’s dead because I chose to get drunk. I’d be more than happy to talk with the people who run the bars and I’d be while we’re on duty to give people rides home, it’s not a big deal.”
Brown moved from a small town in Washington and commuted each day to work in Idaho. He’s been a police officer for seven years. Brown says he’s waiting for his wife and five school-aged kids to move up in a couple of months, so he’s toured the school and is looking for a more permanent home for his family.
Meanwhile, he’s committing himself to the job and exploring the area.
The Haines PD is now up to four officers, including acting chief Sgt. Josh Dryden, Officer Brayton Long and Officer Jordan Welch, who is a long-term sub from Hoonah. Brown says not having a permanent chief is a challenge.
“Sgt. Dryden is doing a wonderful job, but he’s a police officer and he wants to be a police officer and he can’t really be a police officer at the same time he’s trying to be an administrator, so, you know, we have a lot of work to do here. We have a lot of work to do.”
Five or more officers would be safer for the public, Brown says.
“The call load isn’t that high, there aren’t a lot of people calling 911, which is good but that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems here. There’s so much that we can go and find whether it be DUIs, or we’ve had a lot of people come to us and say ‘This person’s selling drugs, this person’s selling drugs, this person’s selling drugs’ and there’s just not that much we can do when we’re short-staffed.”
Brown says he’s here for the good people.
“I’m not here for the bad people; I’m not here to take care of them. I’m not here to coddle them, I’m not here to babysit them or give them special favors. I’m here for the good people. And if you’re not a good person, than I’m certainly not here for you.”
And while hard drugs are obviously here, Brown says alcohol is the biggest issue that he’s seen in his short time in the community, but he’s hoping that with education and enforcement, Haines will be a safer place.