Borough officials in Haines met with Alaska State Troopers over the phone this week, to address an ongoing disagreement about police response. One thing was clear: Haines needs a new plan to make sure law enforcement can operate sustainably.
Haines’ trooper position was cut this year when budget cuts and a shortage of officers forced the state to tighten services. Since then, officials have been trying to figure out how to provide law enforcement throughout the borough.
In a meeting this week, State Trooper Director Colonel Hans Brinke said his department sees the Haines Police as the primary responders in the area.
“Who’s going to be the primary respond-able individual? It’s our contention that the Haines Borough police department has responsibility in the Haines borough,” Brinke said.
Haines officials pushed back. The conversation centered around a few main questions: do Haines police officers have the authority to respond to calls in the Haines borough outside the townsite? If so, do they have the resources?
Bob Griffiths, director of the Alaska Police Standards Council, has an answer to the first question.
While Haines borough code (7.08: Service Areas Established) establishes the townsite specifically as the “police service area,” Griffith said police can still operate outside it. They have to, in order to do their jobs.
“All police officers in Alaska have statewide jurisdiction, and have authority to investigate crime and make arrests anywhere in the state of Alaska,” he said.
But Haines officials expressed concern about asking police to take primary responsibility for a larger area without additional funding.
Police Chief Heath Scott echoes that worry.
“Right now, it’s an unfunded requirement,” he said. “We’re budgeted for townsite activities. So, every time I go outside the townsite, there’s essentially a cost that sometimes is difficult to absorb within our budget.”
Beyond financial costs, there are logistical issues.
“If we have one officer on duty, and we send him out to Haines highway, out to 26-mile, there’s nobody in the town site,” Scott said.
By the end of the meeting, officials hadn’t reached a consensus about the best way to get more resources to Haines police. Council members mentioned options including expanding or raising property taxes, lobbying the legislature for funding, and a VPSO for Klukwan.
Both police and troopers made it clear the problem isn’t about the immediate safety of the community, but setting up a sustainable system for law enforcement. A wildlife trooper remains in Haines to assist police in responding to emergencies.