Nearly half of Sand Point’s police force is leaving the department, according to city officials.
The 950-person island community — located about 550 miles southwest of Anchorage in the eastern portion of the Aleutian Chain — has a five-person police department that rotates into the community on a two-week on, two-week off basis.
Chief Hal Henning and Officer Mark Chandler submitted letters of resignation on Monday, and have already left the community, according to City Administrator Jordan Keeler.
Henning was originally hired on a three-year contract to rebuild Sand Point’s police department. His contract would have been up in August.
“Before Hal (Henning) came on, the police officers were based in the community 24/7,” Keeler said. “There was quite a bit of turnover and instability. At one point, there wasn’t a police force. So Hal came in, rebuilt the police department, instituted a two and two policy where officers would rotate in and out. He was able to find some great people he’d worked with in the past who bought into the vision, and it’s worked, it is working.”
Henning and Chandler both took positions as officers with the Sitka Police Department on the same two-weeks on, two-weeks off rotation.
Henning said his three years in Sand Point have been fulfilling and that he’s helped build a unique department. But, he said, he’s ready to work in a community that’s easier to travel to from his home in Washington state.
“It’s been a fantastic journey,” Henning said. “Sand Point’s an amazing community. The people are resilient. It’s a dream job. It was a lot of fun. And it was pretty neat bringing that place back from no people in the department, where we had a drug problem in the community and lack of stability. I know they went through several officers and were never really fully staffed. And then we’ve been full staff for three years now with no turnover until mine and Officer Chandler’s departure.”
There have been a significant number of inquiries from people interested in the positions, particularly because of the rotation schedule, according to Keeler.
The city has promoted Sergeant Brent Nierman to interim chief, and it already has another officer — who has 40 years of experience in law enforcement — lined up to work in the community, pending a background check.
Henning said with so much interest in the open positions, and with two capable officers still working in the community, he’s not worried for the department.
“This isn’t a repeat of three years ago when the entire department left,” he said. “There’s no upheaval. There’s no disgruntledness. There’s no animosity. It’s not anybody that’s wanting to just leave because they hate being there. This was an extremely difficult decision for both Officer Chandler and I. You know, we talked about it and it was a hard decision, but it was a unique opportunity where we could go in and assist another community to help rebuild their department and do different things.”
Both Henning and Keeler said they don’t anticipate any problems in filling the open police department positions. But, in addition to those openings, the director of Sand Point’s public works department is leaving as well.
The loss of two department heads at once will be felt in such a small community, Keeler said.
“Having lived and worked in rural communities, staffing can be difficult,” he said. “It’s hard to find and retain good people. But Sand Point is a great place. So I don’t think we’ll have any trouble filling the gaps we have right now.”