Would there be consequences if the Haines Borough Police Department stopped responding to calls outside the townsite? According to several residents, not much would change. But, following the loss of an Alaska State Trooper position earlier this year, assembly members are still struggling to figure out what level of service to provide.
“I’m not in favor of expanding the services out there,” said Mosquito Lake resident Dana Hallett. “Primarily, because I don’t understand how my life out there would be enhanced through that.”
Hallett was one of several community members who spoke out against police service expansion at a meeting of the assembly’s Government Affairs and Services Committee. Dave Pahl also opposed it.
“I’ve been out the road for 36 years and I don’t see the need at all,” said Pahl. “I see everybody that goes by my house – that’s why I have a sore neck – and in 36 years, I’ve seen the great emergency medical folks out there a couple times, like I say we really appreciate it, I’ve never seen cops. It just doesn’t seem to be a need.”
Borough Manager Debra Schnabel pushed back on the idea that there isn’t a need for police service outside the townsite.
“People are people, and we behave in certain ways, and yes there are calls from outside the townsite service area,” said Schnabel.
Earlier this year, Haines lost its only blue-shirt trooper. He patrolled out the highway, Lutak and Mud Bay Roads. Since then, the municipality has been trying to figure out how to continue to provide police service outside the townsite without that officer. There’s still a Haines-based wildlife trooper. He can respond to calls previously covered by the blue-shirt officer but is not always available.
Since the trooper post was eliminated, the local police department has been responding to calls outside the townsite, even though they don’t have to. Chief Heath Scott calls it an ‘unfunded requirement.’
“The situation is off balance right now,” said Scott. “And I would say to most of the people in the room is the reason it doesn’t appear to be a situation is because we are managing it. If we stopped responding to calls for service, we would not be managing the situation.”
The assembly is considering whether to expand the police service area beyond the townsite. That would cover communities out Mud Bay and Lutak Road, and the Haines Highway.
Paul Rogers is a Mosquito Lake resident who’s retired from a career in law enforcement. He said the assembly needs to hit pause.
“I think you need to take a step back as a borough,” said Rogers. “As an assembly. And I think you need to allow some time for you to decide if you have a problem or not. And to decide what the facts are about the problem.”
That idea was appealing to some committee members, who think there isn’t enough information to make a decision right now. It came down to two factors, needs and costs.
“If the police continue to go on all of these calls, then there is going to be no real reason for people in the service area to vote for it,” said Tresham Gregg. “So we really have to stop the police from going there so that the crisis will be real or not.”
Heather Lende asked what the consequences could be of putting off a decision.
“What happens if we wait a year? What happens if we wait and see?” asked Lende. “What happens if we do what our attorney says and we just say townsite police aren’t going to be responding to calls? There’s a brown shirt trooper that can go if there’s something, and we’ll see.”
Police Chief Scott cautioned against waiting until there’s a crisis to make a decision.
“As long as I’ve been a police officer, I’ve really hated it when we’ve written legislation in blood,” said Scott. “Based on a mistake. Because we didn’t look at something correctly. And I just would like to avoid that situation.”
The assembly’s direction is still unclear. But by the end of the meeting, the committee was leaning toward maintaining the status quo while more information is gathered. That means the local police will continue to respond to emergency calls outside of their jurisdiction.