Girdwood loses law enforcement

As the closing of the Girdwood trooper post looms nearer, the central Kenai Peninsula stands to gain some positions while Girdwood residents will have to decide how to protect themselves down the line.

Alaska State Troopers are still set to pull out of their Girdwood post on June 30, said Colonel James Cockrell, director of the department.

The original plan was for four of the seven trooper positions from that post to be reallocated to the rest of the E-Detachment, which covers the Kenai Peninsula, with three going directly to Soldotna. Cockrell said the plan has not changed. From there, it will be up to Captain Andy Greenstreet, commander of the detachment, to decide where and how they will be used on the peninsula.

The department allocates its resources and troopers based on which areas are receiving the most calls considered to be of high priority.

“Essentially what we look at is the calls and kind of our portieres and if we’re meeting … our expectations,” Cockrell said.

For example, the central peninsula has a higher volume of criminal calls, such as domestic violence and theft, compared to communities like Girdwood where a lot of calls are related to highway accidents, Cockrell said.

In a previous Clarion interview, Greenstreet said the E-Detachment lost five troopers last fiscal year, including an Alaska Bureau of Highway Patrol position, a domestic violence follow-up position, a cold case investigator and a background investigator. Greenstreet said he would welcome the additional troopers from Girdwood.

Even with some man power from Girdwood being transferred to the central peninsula, the E-Detachment still might end up operating “at a loss,” in the coming year, Cockrell said. The Alaska House of Representatives’ budget included cutting eight troopers positions, and the Senate’s version of the budget proposes cutting another three, he said. If the department loses all 11 positions, it looks like one will come from the group of Girdwood troopers, another will be taken from Seward and two will be cut on the central peninsula, Cockrell said.

The total number of troopers for the state will be reduced to 290 if all 11 positions are cut, he said.

“Right now we’re chasing numbers and we’re essentially running out of troopers,” Cockrell said, adding that the department is “at a breaking point.”

The loss would hurt the agency’s overall coverage for the state, as the Alaska State Troopers are the primary group called upon for search and rescue, he said.

Cockrell said the department will try to keep three highway troopers based in the Girdwood area to cover traffic accidents, but that nothing is certain until its budget is finalized.

Meanwhile, residents in the Girdwood Valley Service Area will be without trooper protection and will have to decide how to move forward during the busy summer months.

Residents will cast their votes on April 5 to decide whether to add protection services to the powers of their service area.

A yes vote will allow the residents to tax themselves at a rate of 1.18 mills, or $118 for each $100,000 of assessed taxable property, according to the proposition.

A no vote will deny the service area the power to provide its own protection at its own expense.

“If it is voted down, then we have no police,” said Tommy O’Malley, a member of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors and supervisor of fire and public safety.

If voters approve the proposition, O’Malley said the plan would be to contract police services from the nearby Whittier Police Department.

Whittier would provide an additional four officers to police Girdwood, with two officers working at a time, switching off each week, said Dave Schofield, director of the Whittier Police Department.

These services are estimated to cost about $620,000 per year, according to an Anchorage Assembly memorandum on the subject. O’Malley said that Girdwood would be able to have a slightly larger say in how its people were protected if it were able to pay for its own police services.

“When we hire an outside police force we will be able to help them set priorities,” he said.

At the least, Girdwood residents could highlight areas of the community that they felt were more at risk and provide that information to officers, he said.

 

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

 

 

 

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