Wanted: A trustworthy, hard-working, community-minded person to lead Haines law enforcement and make the community a safe and healthy place to live.
If that sounds like a tall order, fear not.
Many Haines residents feel like they’ve already found him.
Robert Griffiths has been acting chief since the spring and a few folks at the meeting, including Debra Schnabel, referred to him as “a breath of fresh air.”
She says that beyond great communication, Haines needs someone who can be flexible, which doesn’t always mean operating stanchly by the book.
“ One who has common sense and whose policing is more from the point of trying to resolve and trying to understand so that it’s not enforcement by the book or an attachment necessarily to making sure that we all understand what the rules are,” she says.
Don Turner says Griffiths is straightforward and just what the town needs.
“It seems like with our new administration and the current chief we got, it appears like things are going in the right direction and if you hire somebody that we have no idea who he is, it’s hard to tell what we’ll get again,” he says.
Haines police officer Josh Dryden says he’s worked for chiefs good and bad, and that Griffiths is one of the best.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with Chief Griffiths, he’s very knowledge about the Alaska side of it. He’s worked both Anchorage and Cordova, both big and small towns, which I think is a very big deal,” Dryden says. “He’s also a working chief, he was out on a DV with me at 3 o’clock in the morning last week or two weeks ago and he actually made the arrest and was back in the office in a couple hours.”
About a dozen people that spoke out at the town-hall meeting. And though Public Safety Commission chair Jim Stanford admitted the the turnout was a little disappointing, the list of traits sought for the new police chief was not.
More than anything residents want someone they can trust and someone who will keep the lines of communication wide open. One resident talked about the need for heightened awareness around domestic violence issues and suggested more public input in the actual hiring process. And Paul Nelson says that knowledge of constitutional rights is a must.
“ I ask that any police officer, chief or Haines borough official should be quizzed on their understanding of our constitutional rights, I believe that would be a positive thing to ask them before they take that oath or after they take that oath: do you really understand what you’re swearing to,” Nelson says.
Stanford ran the meeting and asked participants to stay positive and not dredge up the past, but the string of disappointing police chiefs was hard for some to ignore. Stanford says it’s time to look ahead to future.
“All the negative comments that come out of the public I think do more harm than good. It’s important to be critical, sometimes, but also, you know, police officer, police chief, like anybody else, needs positive reinforcement, I’m a firm believer in that,” he says.
As for Griffiths, he says all the positive feedback is encouraging.
“ It’s nice to get some affirmation that the work you’re going is actually appreciated and that members of the public actually notice a positive change,” says Griffiths. “Were I able to stay, I would hope that I could continue to enjoy that level of support from the community when tough issues come up that for all of us to handle.”
Next up for the search for a new chief? Borough manager Dave Sosa says that the list of desirable traits made at the meeting will be studied and they’ll go from there. He praised Griffiths for the job he has done so far. He says that it was a community hiring committee that helped bring him here, so that might be an option for seeking out the next permanent chief.
“He’s doing an incredible job, and I certainly appreciate his presence. We had a hiring committee that selected him and it was comprised of members of the Public Safety Commission, members of the assembly, myself, and so it’s good to see that that process worked,” he says.
Griffiths doesn’t know what his next move is. He says while salary is a factor, he does love his job here.
“I still have to be able to pay the bills and so, you know, there’s a balance there,” he says.
And while locals are clear about what they want in their next chief, whether the role is filled by Griffiths or someone new to Haines remains to be seen. The position has yet to be advertised and so a permanent fixture on force is weeks, even months, away.