Letter to the Editor
Community of Girdwood:
As you may be aware, Alyeska Resort believes that the better policing option to transition into a Girdwood police model is to contract with the Alaska State Troopers (“AST”) and not the Whittier Police Department. While we acknowledge that Whittier has shown good faith efforts to negotiate a contract with Girdwood, we do not believe that such should be the reason to choose the poorer of the two options.
In an effort to understand what AST is offering, representatives of Alyeska Resort met with representatives of AST and the Public Safety Department on August 1, 2016 for a couple of hours. The result of that meeting is that the Resort does not believe that the Community of Girdwood really understands what AST is offering and what issues will be created by Girdwood contracting with Whittier. Following are a few facts and issues we learned from the meeting with AST. Our understanding is:
1. If a contract were entered into with AST, AST would assign six (6) Troopers the Girdwood Post, three (3) of the Troopers would be Bureau of Highway Patrol Troopers and three (3) Troopers would be general Troopers; the Girdwood post at the Tesoro would stay open;
2. AST would commit to a three (3) year contract at $620,000 a year. There would not be additional charges for serious crime investigation, no additional costs for prisoner transport, fuel, cars, or helicopter, the $620,000 would be essentially for salaries and benefits and the cost to keep the AST Post in Girdwood open;
3. Contracting with AST would make available to Girdwood all AST resources, including serious crime investigations, search and rescue, helicopter, and crime lab. If Whittier had to pay for these AST services, if offered by AST, the cost of a Whittier contract could exceed the $615,000 per year contract price. The importance of this is immediately evident in the resources that AST is providing with respect to the lost hiker on the Winner Creek Trail. Could or would Whittier provide those services? Would AST charge Whittier for such services if Girdwood contracted with Whittier? What would be the cost for such services?
4. If Whittier contracts with Girdwood, AST would likely provide support to Whittier for investigative services, including serious crimes, and special cases for only a couple of years and after the first year, AST would likely expect Girdwood to contribute to the costs of those services up to the maximum of the established mill levy cap;
5. A contract with AST would result in at least the status quo of service, but likely improved services. While AST could not commit to a Girdwood response time, AST would commit to a greater presence in the community at places (including school) that the community would request and have after hour Troopers on call in South Anchorage 24/7. AST is willing to engage in community policing activities such as coming to the school and helping establish a Neighborhood Watch;
6. The training that Troopers receive is longer and more in depth. While all officers in Alaska are required to attend one of three police academies in Alaska, Troopers have an additional training period of (3) three weeks and are provided better hands-on experience more quickly before being assigned to a rural area;
7. We were informed that because of the way Alaska law is written, a police department could hire anyone with a modicum of training as a police officer and give that person a year to go through an academy. It would be possible for a police department to hire seasonally and hire persons as police officers that don’t get through the academy and then lay them off before the end of the year period;
8. If AST lays-off the three (3) Troopers and then the Community of Girdwood attempts to go back to AST because of a problem with Whittier or an early termination of a Whittier contract, it would be unlikely that AST could make the same offer because AST would have to hire and train three (3) Troopers which could take up to 18 months;
9. Significant concerns with a Whittier contract include, but aren’t limited to, 911 calls and dispatch, prisoner containment and prisoner transport, costs of future serious crime investigations; and
10. AST is willing to commit to what it offered previously and enter into a three (3) year contract. It is believed that Whittier would like to be able to terminate the contract upon notice, possibly as little as thirty (30) days’ notice.
Are we certain that the $615,000 paid annually to Whittier by Girdwood residents will pay only for public safety in Girdwood or is a significant motivation of Whittier to enter into a contract with Girdwood to supplement Whittier revenue?
For these and other reasons, Alyeska Resort believes that contracting with AST for three (3) years while Girdwood investigates whether it can establish its own police department is the better option. There are just too many uncertainties and unanswered questions with a contract with Whittier. Once a mutually acceptable contract with Whittier is agreed to by the Municipality of Anchorage on behalf of Girdwood, the AST option is likely lost. Alyeska Resort believes that the AST option has not been sufficiently presented to the Community of Girdwood. A hurried vote was taken at the May GBOS meeting before the proposed AST option could be thoroughly discussed. At a minimum, it is our belief that there should be a properly noticed town meeting where all of the facts concerning a proposed Whittier contract and the AST option can be fully laid out and another vote taken.