Haines Police ordered to stop responding to calls outside the townsite

The Haines Borough Manager was directed to order the police to stop responding to calls outside the townsite unless assistance is requested by the state troopers. (Photo by Emily Files)

The Haines Borough has ordered the police department to stop providing service outside the townsite unless assistance is requested by the state troopers. The decision follows over a year of uncertainty about the local police department’s role in providing service to areas within the borough but outside the townsite.

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According to the town charter, the Haines Borough Police Department is only allowed to serve within the boundaries of the townsite.

In the past, areas outside of the townsite have been policed by the Alaska State Troopers. But in 2017, the agency withdrew its sole “blueshirt” officer from the Chilkat Valley, leaving residents outside the townsite without any regular police service.

Since then, Haines police have been responding to calls from outside of the townsite even though it is a violation of the town charter.

During the municipal election in October, residents living out Mud Bay Road, Lutak Road and the Haines Highway rejected a proposal to create on-call police service areas outside of the town limits by increasing property taxes.

After certifying the results of the municipal election at a meeting Tuesday, the Borough Assembly had a decision to make. Would the borough continue to violate town charter by authorizing police responses to calls outside the townsite, or would the police be ordered to stop responding to those calls?

Assembly member William Prisciandaro said he believed the no vote was not necessarily a rejection of local police responses outside the townsite.

“I think a lot of the vote was the funding mechanism for this, not that people didn’t want the response out there in an emergency,” Prisciandaro said. “I’ve had complaints from first responders and concerns that there are certain instances that they feel like they need the police there. They won’t volunteer to go out there if the police presence isn’t there.”

Ordering the Haines Borough Police Department to stop responding to calls outside the townsite does not prevent them from assisting other agencies if requested. Haines residents could still contact the Alaska State Troopers who could relay the call to the Haines dispatch. Assembly member Sean Maidy said he didn’t think this would work in practice.

“We’re asking them to do something that is just not going to work. If there is an actual emergency we’re gonna have them call somebody who will not respond or transfer the call. In an emergency, seconds count,” Maidy said.

Borough Manager Debra Schnabel noted that correspondence with the Alaska State Troopers has made it clear they do not recognize the Haines Borough as their jurisdiction.

Assembly member Heather Lende recognized that the borough was in a frustrating situation. the results of the election were clear and the town charter must be upheld.

“The charter of the Haines Borough is really clear,” Lende said. “We provided people outside the townsite with an option for subscribing to protection from the townsite police department through property tax, and they voted no.”

Assembly member Stephanie Scott agreed that the police cannot continue to violate the town charter. She said if residents disagree with the rules limiting police service to the townsite then the charter can be amended to expand police service borough-wide.

However, Assembly member Brenda Josephson said that providing urban level police service across the borough is unrealistic.

“This borough cannot afford townsite level police service borough-wide. It is cost prohibitive. We’re a massive, massive borough,” Josephson said. “People who want urban-level services live in urban areas. You don’t move to a rural area if you expect urban-level services.”

During the public comments period of the assembly meeting, several residents expressed disappointment about the decision to stop providing service to Mud Bay, Lutak and the Haines Highway Corridor. Haines resident Krista Kielsmeier said that it is just a matter of time before this issue comes up again.

“It seems inevitable that you’ll be changing your decision. My question would be what will it take for you to change your decision. Who will have to be hurt, who will have to die before you change your mind,” Kielsmeier said.

The order to stop providing service outside the townsite unless assistance is requested by the state troopers was approved by the assembly in a 4 to 2 vote with assembly members Sean Maidy and William Prisciandaro opposed.