When the Haines Borough lost its state trooper at the end of last year, the vacancy created a gap in coverage for residents living outside of the townsite. Now, borough staff are asking out-the-road residents how they want to see that hole filled, if at all.
More than 30 people attended a community meeting at the Mosquito Lake School, about 25 miles out the Haines Highway. Borough Police Chief Heath Scott addressed the decision to relocate Haines’ only ‘blue shirt’ trooper.
“This was a decision by AST. It was unilateral meaning they didn’t reach out to us, they didn’t talk to our mayor, they didn’t talk to our manager, they didn’t talk to me. They certainly didn’t talk to you,” said Scott.
The trooper patrolled and responded to calls outside of the townsite, including neighborhoods out Lutak Road, Mud Bay Road, and the Haines Highway. The community still has a wildlife, or ‘brown shirt’ trooper. But he mainly deals with hunting and fishing violations.
Scott said right now his department polices in an about 14-square-mile radius. He said taking on the responsibility of the whole borough would add 2,300 square miles to that.
Right now, the borough police department is responding to emergency calls outside of the townsite. But they’re not doing proactive enforcement.
Mosquito Lake resident Jim Stanford chairs the public safety commission.
“Is there anyone in this room who would not want to be able to dial 911 in an emergency and get some kind of response? Is there anyone in this room who would not even want 911?” asked Stanford.
He asked for a show of hands and none visibly went up.
But several residents said, while they do want emergency response, they don’t want active patrols. And Jan Merriman said the police might not need to be involved at all.
“There’s a difference between being hurt and calling the ambulance and big difference then calling the cops. And I would not call the cops,” said Merriman.
“How about the wife, Jan. How about the wife who’s being abused and maybe her children are being abused. And she picks up the phone and dials 911,” said Stanford.
“Because it takes over an hour for a cop to get out here if they come,” said Merriman.
Jennifer Canfield said no patrols.
“I expect if you can save a life by responding to domestic violence, a weapon being used radically, that you show up. If I have to put a bullet in somebody that walks through my front door, I want somebody to come pick up the body,” said Canfield.
But not everyone in the room had the same opinion.
“We could have an officer stationed right here for 20 hours a week,” said Dana Hallett. “And then the response time would be decreased. Interaction with the community would be more immediate.”
Interim manager Brad Ryan presented a few different options. They range from ending emergency response and police presence outside of the townsite altogether, to expanding active patrols throughout the borough.
If residents decided they wanted the latter, the borough would need to find a way to pay for it. That could be done in a few different ways, mainly involving taxes.
There could be a slight increase in taxes, or a change to sales tax dedications that already exist. Currently, local law enforcement is funded by sales tax, townsite property tax, and the state.
Carolann Wooton said repeatedly, she doesn’t want to see any additional costs.
“The problem that we have is that it’s going to come out of our pocket and we are already paying out of our pocket for little to no services,” said Wooton. “And we don’t want to pay anymore.”
Stanford reiterated the idea he’s brought up to the public safety commission, to change the medical services area paid for by sales tax to an emergency services area.
“You’re probably talking a half a percent or a one percent increase in the sales tax,” said Stanford. “This is a almost a harmless way to provide emergency police response to the outer borough.”
Some of the options to raise revenue for outer-borough response would require a public vote.. Some community members wondered what would happen if townsite residents and those that live out the road voted differently.
“If you guys truly wanted police service out here, emergency and or otherwise. I don’t know that your fellow citizens is the borough are going to leave you out hanging,” said Cheif Scott.
That got a good laugh from the room. But Chuck Mitman said residents living inside the townsite would benefit from emergency response out the road as well.
“They’re snow machining, they’re doing all these other things out here,” said Mitman. “If they get in a situation, they’re going to need those same services out here and they won’t get them.”
In general, the message in Mosquito Lake was clear: the community needs emergency response, but not a regular police presence. A second meeting will be held Wednesday, April 19 at 5:30 p.m. in town at the public library.