Adam Patterson returns to the Haines Police Department. (Abbey Collins)

A police officer who previously worked in Haines has returned to the department. The assembly approved funding for an additional officer in this year’s budget. Now, Adam Patterson is back on the force, with a renewed focus on community policing.

Patterson worked with the Haines Police Department between 2012-2015. But his history here goes back further than that.

“I was a musician here before, and a tour operator,” says Patterson. “I got to know everybody on every side of this community. I love the colorfulness of Haines. To me its home.”

Patterson’s hire is the result of one of the most contentious decisions during Haines budget talks earlier this year. At the police chief’s urging, the assembly reinstated a fourth officer position that was taken away in 2015. This brings the department back up to four officers and the chief.

In 2015, Patterson left Haines to work at a bigger department in Indiana. But, he says there was something missing from that experience.

“I didn’t really realize how much you’re not involved in the community at a bigger department,” says Patterson. “You’re just out there patrolling, pulling people over and making arrests. Which is great, it’s all got its meaning. But I was a part of this community before I became a police officer.”

Patterson talks about community a lot. He says it’s an important part of policing in a small town.

“A small community like this you really have to approach people with a smile but be ready for the worst,” says Patterson. “Community policing is what we need in small communities like this. It’s not the warrior-style they call it.”

In 2015, the same year Patterson left the force, an audit found some big issues with the Haines Police Department, stemming from inattention and poor leadership. Patterson says the problems brought up in the report factored into his departure. He says the current leadership of Chief Heath Scott helped bring him back. Scott joined the department in the summer of 2016.

“It was definitely on my mind,” says Patterson. “And coming back, yes. It was one of the main issues that brought me back. My dispatcher had sent me a message and said ‘we have a great chief, you need to reapply.’”

Patterson is returning to Haines at the same time the borough is trying to figure out how to deal with the loss of the local Alaska State Trooper position.

Haines’ blue-shirt trooper post was relocated to Bethel earlier this year. Since then, the municipality has been exploring how to provide law enforcement response outside of the townsite.

Patterson says it’s not clear what the best way forward is.

“Whatever the public needs, we will step up to make that happen,” says Patterson. “I’m worried about the people up the road, just making sure their needs are met, what they want. They like their space, but I know they also like to be protected. So I’m not sure what the resolution may be.”

But, he says he doesn’t think the trooper vacancy will make his job as an officer more difficult.

“They call us and they need us, we’ll go up there,” says Patterson. “That doesn’t put any more strain on us as the sworn protectors of the community.”

Patterson says he’s happy to be back. He says returning to Haines feels like coming home.