Girdwood Seeks Public Safety Plan

With the state budget tightening, some small communities may be losing Alaska State Trooper outposts come January. One of the affected communities is the ski resort of Girdwood, which, although part of the Municipality of Anchorage, is located forty miles South of the city.    

Girdwood’s board of supervisors has established a public safety task force to look at the community’s options for law enforcement after the Alaska State Trooper post there closes on January 1. The task force has been working with the city of Anchorage since March to find a solution to Girdwood’s public safety problem. Sam Daniel, the task force co – chair, says any public safety coverage in Girdwood has to be not too small, not to big, but just right.

“We believe that Girdwood taxpayers and residents would be willing to pay for a right sized, cost effective public law enforcement model in Girdwood, but we are not interested in having to pay for services that go far beyond what our needs are, and that we don’t believe will truly be provided when we finally have to pay for them.”]

Mike Abbot, Anchorage municipal manager, has told the task force that APD is not set up for rural coverage, so if Girdwood wants more police protection, Girdwood must join with the Anchorage Polcie Service area and get the same coverage as other muni communities. But Daniel says paying for full coverage will break Girdwood’s tax cap

“I think we are being shunted toward voting for inclusion with the greater Anchorage service area, and the concern that locals have is that they are going to say, ‘Oh yes, we’ll give you 24/7”, but the way that the Anchorage police model works is that it is based on need, so instead of there being three police officers down here, which is way more than we need, they are going to be in South Anchorage, or they are going to be downtown during bar break, or some other place other than down here, while we are going to be paying as much as folks in Anchorage are. “

Union requirements and legal challenges also cloud any inclusion in APD, and joining the APD service area would depend on approval from Girdwood and muni voters in the next city election.

But at a recent task force meeting on August 26, the task force discussed having Girdwood share the Whittier police force with Whittier police chief Dave Schofield.

The harbor city of Whittier has 24/7 policing, with one to three officers available, depending on the time of day. Whittier pays 450 thousand dollars a year for public safety. And, Schofield says, Whittier has a contract with the state of Alaska to patrol the Portage Highway and the Anton Anderson tunnel.

“So that puts us on the Whittier side and the Bear Valley side with the Portage Highway. So going into Girdwood is just an extension of what we are already doing.”

And, Whittier, about 20 miles from Girdwood, could benefit from the plan. Schofield has to lay off two seasonal officers every fall.

“Our summer months are our busy times, and as I understand it, from Girdwood, winter is their busy time. So our busy seasons are opposite of each other.”

A collaboration with Girdwood could help keep the two seasonal officers on full time.

The task force has approved a motion to pursue discussion of a partnership with Whittier police with the Municipal attorney to see if the option is viable.

Meanwhile, other options are under consideration by Girdwood’s task force. One is to contract with Alaska State Troopers for public safety coverage, a plan not likely in the face of state restrictions.

The closing of Girdwood’s Trooper outpost affects other communities as well. Bird, Rainbow and Indian, three tiny enclaves north of Girdwood on the Seward Highway, will lose policing, too. And Sam Daniels worries about that a lot.

“All of us that live in Southcentral Alaska should be very, very concerned about the Seward Highway safety corridor. And if there are not police officers on the highway between Girdwood and Anchorage, actively enforcing the safety zone and speed limit, than people are going to drive beyond the speed limit in an unsafe manner.” 

The Girdwood public safety task force meets later this week, on September 17 to continue examining it’s options.