Nikiski group to check into police options

Posted: Thursday, March 04, 2004

Only half as many people attended a Nikiski meeting Monday as did a month ago to discuss a recent burglary crime wave there, but interest in the community problem is not on the wane.

In fact, 20 of the 73 at the more recent gathering formed a committee of the Nikiski Community Council to study the concept of creating a law enforcement service area and other alternatives for combating area thieves.

The purported lack of a law enforcement presence in Nikiski became apparent earlier this year after the number of residential burglaries reached 20 from November to January.

Residents expressed anger at Alaska State Troopers for reportedly not responding after being told about the burglaries or not returning victims' phone calls.

In January, a group of about 10 citizens reportedly surrounded a house they believed held much of the stolen property, called troopers and were told no officers would be able to respond.

Some of the citizens then allegedly went into the house and recovered property reported missing in one of the burglaries.

On Jan. 29, armed with a search warrant, troopers entered a different Nikiski residence, that of Michael C. Evans, 31, and recovered approximately $20,000 worth of what is believed to be stolen property.

Evans was arrested and charged with possession of stolen property. He was taken to Wildwood Pretrial Facility and held in lieu of $10,000 bail.

Charges on another suspect have been forwarded to the district attorney's office for review. That suspect is in Wildwood Pretrial on other unrelated charges.

Early in February, about 150 angry Nikiski residents met at the local senior citizens center and fired off a barrage of gripes and accusations at trooper E Detachment commander Capt. Tom Bowman, who promised to look into the complaints and told people to call him on his personal line if they failed to get a trooper response in the future.

The meeting Monday, moderated by Nikiski Community Council President Fred Miller and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Gary Superman, who represents Nikiski, began with citizens again airing gripes, but became more constructive as Superman offered a proposed borough ordinance to form the Nikiski Law Enforcement Service Area, and Miller entertained a motion to form a committee to study the proposal.

"The purpose of the (Nikiski Community) Council is to facilitate what the community wants," Miller said.

"In the community action plan, developed in 2000, we have two action items: explore with the Department of Public Safety increasing the law enforcement presence in Nikiski, and investigate the implementation of a public safety program utilizing community-based peace officers," he said.

"The community council is the one mechanism you have out here and you have me on the assembly," Superman said. "And, you have the schools."

Superman said he did not expect any conclusion to come from Monday's meeting, just discussion.

He told the group it would cost about $1 million to put an officer on the street in Nikiski 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The cost would be all-inclusive salary, benefits, patrol vehicle and other needed equipment, he said. With its large industrial presence, the community has a $1.3 billion tax base, Superman said.

Superman echoed Bowman's earlier message that putting an officer on the streets around the clock, actually requires six people to cover all shifts.

One resident, Ann Krogseng, offered that she has looked into the possibility of Nikiski obtaining a Homeland Security grant to help with its law enforcement needs, but said she found out the application process could take about 1 1/2 years.

Nikiski Fire Chief Dan Gregory informed the group that the fire department has always had an office available to troopers, and at times troopers have used the facility, but at other times they have not been able to afford to keep a trooper there.

After hearing nearly two hours of comments and complaints, Miller asked for a motion, and Nikiski resident and former borough assembly member Phil Nash recommended establishing the committee to study the law enforcement possibilities.

Before the meeting broke up after almost three hours, 20 people had signed a sheet of paper indicating they would participate in the committee.

Among those signing was Heidi Hall, a victim of one of the burglaries, who organized the first community meeting.

"I got my stuff back because I threw a fit, and people who know me know I can throw a fit," she said.

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