Nikiski debates options

Break-ins prompt discussion about law enforcement

Posted: Friday, February 06, 2004

Nearly 150 Nikiski residents upset over a rash of recent break-ins in their community gave Alaska State Trooper E Detachment commander Capt. Tom Bowman more than an earful during a heated public meeting Wednesday night.

Most of the people who spoke said they were angered by the more than 20 burglaries that have taken place since November and by the lack of response from troopers.

"Our home's our only safety in the whole world -- other than God," said Heidi Hall, a burglary victim who organized the community meeting. "After we were robbed, I started getting phone calls from others who were robbed.

"Troopers responded to us in 47 minutes, but then we never heard from them again," she said.

A house Hall and her husband are building in the Island Lake Road area was burglarized Jan. 31, with thieves reportedly taking more than $10,000 worth of power tools and building materials. Also taken were kitchen cabinets and a microwave still in the box, she said.

"When these guys go in, they attack a whole neighborhood," said Hall, who told the group that six homes within a one-mile radius had been hit.

"We know who's doing it," she said.

Hall and Merrill McGahan said a group of Nikiski residents went to the house of one of the suspects, surrounded it and called troopers to let them know they had found the stolen property.

Troopers, however, failed to respond, and two of the residents went in, confronted the suspect and recovered Hall's property, they said.

Because of their actions, the two will face assault charges, Hall said.

"These guys got it done 'cause the law wouldn't," McGahan said.

McGahan asked Capt. Bowman, who arrived to the packed Nikiski Senior Center about 15 minutes after the meeting got under way, whether people can make citizens' arrests.

People can detain suspects until troopers arrive, Bowman said, adding: "When you do that, know that these things often involve drugs and drugs often mean there's gonna be weapons."

He encouraged residents who had not already done so to visit the trooper garage where the stolen property is being stored to identify their belongings.

On Jan. 30, troopers searched a home in Nikiski and recovered approximately $20,000 worth of property.

Michael C. Evans, 30, of Nikiski, was arrested and charged with possession of stolen property. He was taken to Wildwood Pretrial Facility where bail was set at $10,000.

Misty Butcher said her home had been burglarized five times in four months and her vehicles were stolen. Troopers did not respond until the fifth burglary, she said.

According to Butcher, she tracked down her vehicles and it took troopers 4 1/2 hours to respond only to say the court denied a request for a search warrant.

Bowman said that just finding a stolen vehicle in someone's yard does not mean that person stole it, and the police cannot go in and search the person's house simply because the vehicle is outside.

He told the group that not getting a response from troopers is inexcusable, however. Each trooper has a cell phone and is supposed to return phone calls, he said.

He asked, "Which trooper was it?"

"Take your pick. I've called seven," said Butcher.

Bowman said if people get that kind of response or no response, they should call him on his direct line, 260-2706.

The top Kenai Peninsula trooper told the audience that his detachment includes a sergeant and three troopers in Girdwood, who also cover Tyonek and Prince William Sound, three in Seward, a sergeant and four troopers in Homer and three sergeants and 12 troopers in Soldotna.

"Since the first of the year, we've responded to 1,747 calls," he said.

"Eighteen of those were burglaries, 18 domestic violence, 19 (driving under the influence) arrests and 96 motor-vehicle accidents.

"We've had nine burglaries in this area reported since the first of the year -- reported -- that's the key," he said.

Listening in on the meeting from Juneau were Rep. Mike Chenault of Nikiski and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Gary Superman, also of Nikiski.

"I sure don't want to see (vigilantism), but I understand the frustration out there," said Chenault. "If you're not getting results, let us know and we'll do what we can."

Bowman announced that if the soon-to-be closed Nikiski Elemen-tary School is converted into a community center as has been discussed, he would like to see two classrooms used as a trooper substation.

Other possibilities discussed to enhance law enforcement in Nikiski included creating a Nikiski Police Department, purchasing a Nikiski house for a trooper to live in and establishing a Neighborhood Watch or community patrol.

Jerry Ward, a former state senator who represented the area, asked Bowman what kind of support the community could expect if it formed a community watch group.

"One of the things that really troubles me -- Jerry, was it five years ago -- at the fire station we talked about the same things," Bowman said.

Ward said the community watch idea never materialized and Bowman again said he would like to see a substation in Nikiski and have a community patrol work in conjunction with troopers assigned there.

Fred Miller, who heads Nikiski's Community Council, said Bowman was invited to the council two years ago, but nobody was interested in a community patrol.

"We started a Neighborhood Watch two years ago," said Mike Peak.

"Unfortunately, we had the Neighborhood Watch sign stolen."

One Nikiski businessperson related two shooting incidents that took place at his business and said troopers didn't even want the bullets he recovered from the walls.

"It's just like the Sibley case," said the business owner, Dale White Sr., referring to the airplane mechanic killed in his shop two years ago during an apparently interrupted burglary.

"My son and I keep the radio playing and someone shot a bullet into the building to see if anyone was in there. Then they broke in through the back," White said.

"When my wife was sweeping up some things, she said, 'Look at this,' and I found a bunch of drywall plaster on the floor. There in the wall was a bullet, intact.

"I called troopers and they didn't care. They didn't even want it," he said.

Bowman told White two detectives are actively working on the Sibley case and Bowman wants the bullets.

"I'll have the detectives come and get them," he said.

Superman said options are available and he is willing to look at them.

"If people want a sheriff, I will look at the numbers without a commitment," Superman said.

"If we want more visibility from the troopers or our own police force, we need to look at the options," he said.

Peak asked what Nikiski residents can do to help the troopers and Bowman told them to be watchful and report suspicious activities and suspicious people in their neighborhoods.

On Thursday, Bowman said he has assigned Sgt. Donaldson to the Nikiski burglary investigation full time.

Before exiting the meeting shortly before 10 p.m., Mark Powell urged residents to attend the next meeting of the Nikiski Community Council, scheduled for 7 p.m. March 1, when the issue will be discussed further.

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