Without Troopers, Girdwood Looks For New Law Enforcement

Losing Girdwood's Troopers means the town is looking for other means of law enforcement. Alaska Public Media file photo.
Losing Girdwood’s Troopers means the town is looking for other means of law enforcement. Alaska Public Media file photo.

At the end of the year, Alaska State Troopers says it will close their post in Girdwood. The town’s quest to court a new source of law enforcement is off to a rocky start.

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The town of Girdwood is involved in what some might see as a really unfortunate game of hot potato — Girdwood is the potato, and the two parties hoping not to get stuck with it are the Anchorage Police Department and the Alaska State Troopers.

Due to statewide budget cuts, Troopers notified the town of 2,600 year-round residents that they’d no longer be able to provide law enforcement starting next year.

“You know, we’re losing five trooper positions on the Kenai Peninsula. It’s essentially resource-related,” Trooper director Col. James Cockrell says. Troopers statewide are feeling the squeeze of fiscal belt-tightening at the state level.

But furthermore, “(Girdwood is) in the municipality of Anchorage. You know, I certainly feel the muni of Anc. has an obligation to provide them police services there.”

Losing a Trooper post is really bad news for Girdwood because, well, Trooper patrols were free. Like Colonel Cockrell says, though, Girdwood technically falls within the municipality of Anchorage. But the town has to pay for Anchorage Police Department patrols.

Sam Daniel is on the Girdwood Board of Supervisors — which is sort of like a town council — they’ve taken on this issue. But they’re finding that APD doesn’t police the same way the Troopers do.

“If we were to keep the state Troopers model in Girdwood — the state troopers model allows for one officer and one car to be on duty. APD, as I understand it, both the municipality and the union require that each officer have their own car, and that there be a minimum of two officers on shift.”

If you look at Trooper incident logs for Girdwood the past few years, you mostly see a lot of speeding tickets, a couple of reckless driving citations, a handful of DUIs — crime stats portray it as a pretty safe place, which is why the Girdwood board is asking for just one Anchorage police officer on the weekends — Friday through Sunday.

So far the answer is no. Paying for police service is not an ‘a la carte’ type of purchase.

At a work session yesterday in Anchorage City Hall, Girdwood community leaders discuss possible ways to cope Trooper withdrawl with the Berkowitz administration. Photo: Monica Gokey/KSKA.
At a work session yesterday in Anchorage City Hall, Girdwood community leaders discuss possible ways to cope Trooper withdrawl with the Berkowitz administration. Photo: Monica Gokey/KSKA.

Here’s how city manager Mike Abbott put to to the Girdwood board at a working session on Monday:

“The police department doesn’t feel like they can provide that sort of level of service that you described, both from a staffing point of view as well as from how they’re organized and how they’re trained… and the way they operate, that doesn’t fit with how they provide police force in Anchorage. At this point, their recommendation is they not be tasked with that assignment,” Abbot says. “But they’re not the final decision makers on that.”

If Girdwood was to buy into full APD coverage, it would mean an added tax through a voter-approved mill rate. The price tag is considerable.

“It’s maybe a 30 percent increase to the property tax payers,” Daniel says. If you own the average single-family home in Girdwood (about $350,000), the 2.9 mill rate adds about $1,000 to your yearly tax bill.

The earliest Girdwood could even vote on such a tax would be next April. If they can’t extend Trooper coverage in the meantime, it means APD will cover Girdwood, but on a very sparse, emergency-only, kind of basis.

“And it would be for major crimes – such as an officer down, or a shooting, or something like that,” Daniel says.

For now, Girdwood is exploring a number of different options. There’s talk of a neighborhood watch. They’ve even cast a line to Whittier about contract policing. A lot of their leads are dead ends, but the town is still trying.

In Anchorage, the city is lending resources in pitching Girdwood’s case to the governor to keep Troopers on the job.