The Haines Borough is getting closer to figuring out how to deal with the loss of an Alaska State Trooper position earlier this year. But, the municipality is still deciding what role it wants borough police to play outside of the townsite. And, the local government is not satisfied with an offer for financial compensation from the troopers.
Earlier this year, the Alaska State Troopers pulled their only blue-shirt officer from Haines. The department relocated the position to Bethel. They cited budget cuts and the Chilkat Valley’s comparatively low crime rate.
Since then, the Haines Borough Police Department has been providing emergency response outside of the townsite. Something which used to be the troopers responsibility. The borough has been trying to figure out whether to expand the service area for local police to include neighborhoods out the highway, Lutak Rd. and Mud Bay Rd.
The borough also asked the troopers for reimbursement to cover the cost of outside-townsite service through the end of this fiscal year. Former interim manager Brad Ryan asked for $52,000.
The Alaska Department of Public Safety came back with a different proposal of about half the money requested. It sent a contract to authorize a one-time payment of $25,000.
At a meeting last week, assembly member Heather Lende said she was not satisfied with that number.
“Twenty-five thousand dollars. It’s cheap,” said Lende. “They’re not paying what we’ve responded, according to the chief and according to the aid. So it’s almost like for people who are telling us that the cost of law enforcement is so expensive they can’t do it, but they want us to do it for $25,000. When they won’t do it for hundreds of thousands apparently.”
Former interim manager Ryan cautioned the assembly against approving the contract as-is.
He said it appears to limit the borough’s ability to ask for funds in the future. And, he said it looks like the document acknowledges that the local police are responsible for response outside of the townsite. By borough code, that’s not true.
Newly-appointed assembly member Stephanie Scott suggested amending the contract to take out those assumptions.
“The statement ‘for all areas of the Haines Borough that are the responsibility of the Haines Borough PD,’ is inaccurate,” said Scott. “The only area that is the responsibility of the Haines Borough PD is the townsite.”
Scott said they should remove that sentence, and specify that emergency services will be provided by Haines Police, not all services.
She also said they should eliminate a sentence that makes the borough responsible for developing funding sources to provide borough-wide police services going forward.
Scott’s amendment passed unanimously. Even though they weren’t happy with the amount, the assembly agreed to a $25,000 one-time payment.
They agreed to have the mayor send the amended document back to the troopers.
The contract is for the current fiscal year, which ends at the beginning of July. But Haines’ public safety commission wants the assembly to fight for the trooper position to be reinstated.
The commission has been talking about how the municipality should address police response outside of the townsite going forward. The assembly has been waiting on their recommendation. Here’s chair Jim Stanford.
“My two priorities are educating the kids, the schools and public safety,” said Stanford. “That’s my two things that I think government should supply for the people. And I think when the state troopers decide they’re just going to pull out or whatever, I think it’s horribly irresponsible of them.”
They voted unanimously to recommend the borough assembly prioritize fighting for the return of the trooper.
But police chief Heath Scott said he needs more direction than that.
“I think that we want to continue to get AST back here,” said Scott. “They serve a greater purpose, they’re a statewide resource, we absolutely want to continue that, but I need to know what we’re doing July 1.”
The commission said if the trooper isn’t returned, their second preference is to change the current borough-wide medical service area to an emergency service area. That would cover emergency police response, ambulance and search and rescue. It would be funded through taxes. The commission sent the recommendation to the assembly.