Whittier police begin patrolling Girdwood on short-term contract
After roughly three weeks without any law enforcement stationed in Girdwood, there are now Whittier Police Department (WPD) officers patrolling the town. It is the result of a short-term contract between the Girdwood Board of Supervisors, the Municipality of Anchorage and WPD that lasts through the end of the year.
After the contract expires, there is an option to extend the contract until January 22, 2017. A long-term contract lasting for a few years is still in the works.
“I think the goal is for us to be here at least the next three years,” said WPD Chief David Schofield.
There are seven officers on Whittier’s force. Four will be stationed in Girdwood on a rotating schedule, with two on duty at the same time. If backup is needed in either Whittier or Girdwood, officers from the other town will respond.
“We’re excited to be here, and we’re excited to start working with the community and start building a relationship with the residents,” Schofield said.
Whittier’s port draws tourists in the summer, while Alyeska Resort brings skiers to Girdwood in the winter. Schofield said he used to have to lay off some officers in the winter, so this will help his workforce remain consistent.
“It seems like it’s going to be a pretty good fit for everybody,” he said.
The contract almost did not happen at all. Proposition 9, which allowed for a new police force, passed by just three votes in April. The Girdwood Board of Supervisors hopes a successful short-term contract will convince residents to support the long-term agreement.
“I’m just really relieved,” said Tommy O’Malley, a member of the board. “I feel accomplished. I’m really proud of our community. I’m confident in the Whittier police.”
A former Alaska State Trooper who lives in Girdwood said the faster response times should help change the minds of those who voted against Proposition 9.
“They’re going to have somebody show up in a timely manner, not have to wait an hour and a half or have the dispatcher say, ‘We don’t have anybody. Nobody can come down there to take care of your problem,'” said Mike Opalka, referring to the fact that for the last three weeks, the closest officers to respond to an issue were troopers, who could be more than an hour’s drive away.
The temporary contract costs a maximum of $2,000 per day. O’Malley said the long-term contract will cost less.
The agreement is the first of its kind in Alaska, according to Opalka. But Schofield said it might not be the last.
“Everybody’s budgets are getting a little tighter, maybe [it’s] something we’ll see more,” Schofield said.
The last time Whittier police officers worked in Girdwood was this summer during the Forest Fair festival.
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