The North Peninsula Community Council is out to help take a bite out of crime in the unincorporated areas north of the city of Kenai.
As a result of sparse Alaska State Troopers presence in Nikiski and lengthy trooper response time from Soldotna, the council began looking into ways to help the state law enforcement officials combat crime -- or take on the fight themselves.
Trooper Lt. Tom Bowman attended the council's Monday meeting to address concerns about trooper presence and to make suggestions for how residents can protect their property. One response he was met with was how the community could become actively involved in law enforcement, even through hands-on means.
"Has the possibility of trooper reserves ever been discussed in law enforcement circles in this state?" asked Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Gary Superman of Nikiski. "A lot of the other states have them. Is that a possibility in our scenario?"
Bowman said a reserve plan is feasible but depends on proper training of reservists to save the state from liability issues.
"The way you beat liability is through training," Bowman said. "We have trainers here that train our troopers. There's no reason you couldn't train citizens. The problem is, what are they going to do? You don't necessarily want them riding around out there by themselves."
The council determined it to be a long-term solution worth pursuing and nominated North Kenai resident Ann Krogseng to begin researching the possibility of state funding for reserve troopers in the area.
She will return her findings to the February meeting.
But council members asked Bowman what they could do to curtail criminal behavior in the meantime.
"What can we do?" resident Patrick Heath asked. "We have private land, private property, private roads. What can we do to stop people from coming down there?"
Krogseng chimed in with Heath's question and asked for advice for deterring crime against personal property.
"It seems like there (isn't) really very much information available from the troopers to us in terms of what we can do to empower ourselves to either catch criminals or advance the investigation," Krogseng said.
"If nothing else, is there something written that troopers could give to victims of crime that says, 'this is what we do, this is what you can do. This is the process that happens.'"
Bowman apologized for what he saw as a common failure on the part of the troopers to communicate with victims and explained that the state could not provide any direct instructions for how to deal with crime to citizens.
"You're not going to see anything come out in written form that suggests what you could do to help yourself, because that then makes us and the state of Alaska liable for what you do," Bowman said. "There's a state law that prohibits us from giving you legal advice."
Bowman hoped to help council members find ways of stopping crime. He suggested initiating a neighborhood watch as the best answer to crime problems.
"Neighborhood watch is a fantastic program," Bowman said. "It gets you to know your neighbors. It sets up some calling blocks where everybody will have the number of everybody around them.
"You have a lot of dead-end roads and cul-de-sacs. When the vehicle comes by your house that you've never seen before and goes down to the end of the road and parks, there should be some alarms that go off. If nothing else, walk out to the street and write down the plate number."
The council broached the possibility of having troopers stationed in Nikiski, and Bowman spelled out what had been done in the past and what possibilities existed for such a strategy.
"We've done that," Bowman said. "We had a half-desk at the fire station and a phone line there. If they're on this side and they're applying search warrants or filling out paper work, they'll go to the fire station and work out of there.
"Yes it's possible," Bowman said. "About two-and-a-half years ago folks in Ninilchik decided they wanted a trooper and went to the Legislature and we got a new position and money for contractual state housing, and in about nine months we had a trooper station."
He said the question of funding state housing and a salary would have to be taken up with legislation. Bowman also said a situation with state-subsidized housing would attract troopers who wouldn't have to worry about selling their homes when they eventually move.
"You have to think about our turnover," Bowman said. "When they come in here, they know they're going to be here two or three years, and then they're going to move."
Bowman said providing troopers to the Nikiski area is something he would like to see happen, but he said that will come at a price.
"I'd love to have some people out here," Bowman said. "The trouble is, if you only have one person, that one person obviously can't work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. ... What they end up doing is working flexible schedules. They're on call and they get a tremendous amount of overtime, which obviously costs big dollars."
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