Officer Brayton Long is the newest member of the Haines Police Department, but he’s no stranger to the Upper Lynn Canal. KHNS’s Jillian Rogers rode along with officer Long last week and filed this report.
Long spent his years as a young adult in Haines and most recently worked for the police department in Skagway for five years. He knows the area, he says, and a lot of the old timers. For those who don’t know him, he’s been introducing himself in an interesting way. By pulling people over. He’s not giving many tickets mind you, but it’s still gotten some hackles up around town. Long says, he’s just doing his job. And getting reacquainted with the town.
“So as a peace officer, we’re trained to adhere to the law and show dignity and respect to other people and keep everything within the realm of the law,” Long says. “We’re just not out arbitrarily writing tickets to punish people. And I think that’s a mental mindset in any community is that “they’re just out to get me” and that’s not my mindset. My mindset is to keep the community safe.”
He says he treats people that way he wants to be treated.
It’s a Monday afternoon in Haines. There’s plenty of fresh snow on the ground and people are out and about. We cruise down Main Street, out the highway, down Mud Bay Road and toward the ferry terminal. Everybody waves.
“Part of our job is to make these stops, but that’s where you could potentially make or break your relationship with people and the community in general.”
Long says he’s happy to be back here and figures he’s in it for the long haul. He’s got family and friends in Haines.
“My mother-in-law is here, she used to have Jackson’s store on Second, and Tom Jackson is my father-in-law, who has passed away, but he had the outboard marine store,” he says. “There are a lot of family connections, a lot of people that I know. My family is here, my daughter and her kids, so yeah, we’ll be here for a long time.”
There’s not much for police action on this day. He drives by a line of cars parked on a side street and turns around.
“So here’s a situation that this car right here, this red one, is probably parked too close to the stop sign. But what’s prudent and practical? Should I go write him a ticket? Well, no because they’re parked out of the way so these guys can plow snow. And they’re all lined up here. Maybe an officer from down in the Lower 48 would be like ‘Oh, here’s a citation I can write.’ But what does that do? It just creates more problems in the community.”
The police force is a little skinny right now. Sgt. Josh Dryden is filling in as acting chief and says they have one very interested, qualified person on the hook. They are still “actively and aggressively” looking for a new officers.
“I’m very confident in Sgt. Dryden and I really appreciate his experience and how he operates. I’m confident in the department being able to continue to do their job,” Long says. “Basically, no, I’m not worried at all.”
Meanwhile, as Long pilots his SUV around the townsite, he says he’s working hard to foster strong community ties and gain people’s trust. He patrols in between bouts of paperwork and investigations, but it has become more than checking for broken tail lights and speeders. He says he often takes a lap around town as people are settling in for the night to check for signs of chimney fires or unusual activity.
Before settling down as a peace officer in the Upper Lynn Canal, Long work for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s office in California. He’s also tried at his hand at other professions including construction and logging.
“But being a peace officer and being involved in contacting people that are in these potentially contentious situations where they’ve violated state law or borough code, which in fact reflects state law. I’ve learned over time about myself. What can bring to this situation and keep myself apart from it so I don’t get draw into it emotionally. I guess problem solving would be the best way to describe it.”
Long came onboard at the Haines PD at an interesting time. An audit of the department this summer noted a myriad of shortcomings, several of which were rectified by former interim police chief Robert Griffiths. But, Griffiths departed Haines last month.
“To me, it’s a challenge. And it’s a positive challenge. To actually be part of community service. Some people run for mayor, some people run for political office. But for me, this is a chance to be involved with the community and try to help bring about some kind of stability through my contacts – just through me, personally.”
We were only cruising around for an hour, and Long didn’t stop anyone. He says he’s aware that cops make people nervous, even when they’re not doing anything wrong, so he’s trying to alleviate that worry, by being fair and friendly.
Long says being a small-town cop means being the guy who gets to help people.
“So it really is about trying to do the best you can and provide safety for the community.”