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Anchorage

Girdwood will briefly go without police presence after troopers pull out

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: September 30, 2016
  • Published September 29, 2016

The ski community of Girdwood will be without a formal police presence until at least mid-October, with city attorneys in Anchorage and Whittier still working out details on a police contract and the Alaska State Troopers post there due to close at week's end.

Anchorage City Attorney Bill Falsey said contract negotiations won't be completed by the time Girdwood's troopers post officially closes Saturday, a victim of state budget cuts. He said the city is working on a short-term contract with Whittier to cover two to three months. 

"There will be at least some gap where the trooper post is closed and Whittier is not physically present in Girdwood," Falsey said.

He said Anchorage officials understand "if real police attention is needed, the troopers will be available to respond."

An Alaska State Trooper patrols downtown Girdwood in May 2015. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

Alaska State Troopers Col. James Cockrell said in a phone interview troopers will provide emergency services in Girdwood and respond to felony-level crimes until Whittier police take over.

Whittier Mayor Daniel Blair said the short-term agreement is expected to be signed by Oct. 15.

Girdwood, a community of about 2,700 nearly 40 miles southeast of Anchorage, and the small Seward Highway communities between Anchorage and Girdwood, lie within the municipality's boundaries but outside the city's police district. Property tax bills there don't include a charge for police services.

Blair said he wasn't directly involved in the negotiations with Anchorage but believed both sides were working hard on a resolution. It's also the slow time of year, he added. He said a Whittier police presence should be established well before skiers descend on Girdwood.

Sam Daniel, co-chair of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors and head of the board's public safety committee, declined to comment. Daniel appeared at an Anchorage Assembly meeting two weeks ago and pleaded for Anchorage to speed up the process. 

At this point, Falsey said, Anchorage attorneys are waiting to hear back from Whittier attorneys on the latest draft of the short-term agreement. He said a longer-term contract will eventually be sent to the Whittier City Council for approval. 

The saga of who will patrol Girdwood began more than a year ago, culminating in the plans for a contract with the Whittier Police Department. It's unusual for one city to contract with another for police services. Falsey and other officials said they hadn't heard of the situation arising elsewhere in Alaska.

The unprecedented nature of the agreement is one element of the drawn-out contract negotiations. Blair said Anchorage's procurement laws for obtaining services were "never written for a police contract."

"A normal contract for trimming trees, or something like that, is different than a peace officer walking around with a gun," Blair said.

In April, by a three-vote margin, Girdwood voters decided to tax themselves to raise more than $600,000 needed for the contract. There have been intense discussions in the community since then about the best route to take, with Alyeska Resort emerging as one of the most vocal proponents of keeping troopers in Girdwood instead of contracting with Whittier.  

On Sept. 9, Cockrell wrote an email to Girdwood officials saying the troopers had decided not to submit another proposal to enter into a policing contract with Girdwood. He said the agency was moving troopers to other areas, particularly the Kenai Peninsula, "to better meet our overall mission."

Until the contract between Whittier and Anchorage is signed, Cockrell said, troopers would continue to patrol the Seward Highway.  

"I wish there was another alternative, but at this time our resources are very limited and the foreseeable future doesn't seem any brighter," Cockrell wrote.

Cockrell also indicated Anchorage needs to take responsibility for providing police services instead of relying on troopers.

"There has to be a point when the Municipality of Anchorage decides how they will provide basic police services to all their citizens living within the MOA," Cockrell wrote. "It's difficult for AST to provide those services within the MOA when we are already struggling to provide police services to our rural areas of the state."

The Berkowitz administration has challenged the state's legal authority to close the Girdwood post.

Protection for the small communities between Anchorage and Girdwood, such as Indian and Rainbow Valley, will not be included in the Whittier contract.

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