Audit suggests needed updates for police force

By Melinda Munson

At 88 pages, with over a year of research, the May 5, 2023 Draft Analysis/Audit of the Skagway Police Department by McGrath Consulting Group was presented at the June 1 assembly meeting. The report included 47 recommendations: 29 covered policing matters and 18 addressed communications issues.

Assemblymember Dan Henry was less than impressed.

“Well, you know, there were several things mentioned – 95% of what was mentioned, I already knew,” he said.

“It’s an hour and a half of my life I’ll never get back,” he told the galley.

In contrast, Assemblymember Sam Bass, chair of the Public Safety Committee, appeared appreciative.

“Our chief of police doesn’t have time to compile all these numbers for us and put together this kind of understanding of the communication systems … or even to reach out and find out what the current best practices are,” he said. “…It’s an 88 page report. We had it very shortened and surmised for us. So I think there is value there.”

 Ron Moser, lead police consultant/project manager for McGrath spoke about the need for additional officers. The Skagway department currently has four, including Sargeant Kenneth Cox and Chief Jerry Reddick. The small number of officers means that twice daily for several hours, the station may not have an officer on duty.

“…the department does not staff that patrol function 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” Moser said. “They have times of the day when there is not a person on patrol in the department – in a uniform, on the street. They instead cover it by what’s referred to as standby status. …it means that one of the officers is assigned to be on standby. And they are not on active patrol. They need to be in the jurisdiction, they need to be able to respond to a call for service if needed. But they could be at home, they could be asleep. They could be having dinner, they’re just not out there.” 

Craig Haigh, lead fire consultant/communications for McGrath, listed the health concerns that come with constantly being on call and the ensuing lack of sleep. They include diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, cancers and mental health issues including depression and increase in suicide risk.

The audit team recommended adding two patrol officers to the team immediately to allow for 24/7 coverage. They further advocated for the eventual hire of up to two community service officers (CSO). CSOs are civilians who assist with tasks such as community outreach, school crossings and parking enforcement. 

The report advised that patrol officers work in pairs for optimal safety and recommended 12-hour shifts.

“As a long-range plan, depending on funding, to achieve 24/7/365 coverage in patrol with a minimum of two officers on duty, we recommend the addition of six patrol officers and one additional sergeant to the force to provide maximum coverage and support,” the analysis stated.

Drones, cameras in busy areas including the docks, a school patrol officer if the school was interested in funding the endeavor, the formation of a citizen emergency response team (CERT), the creation of a lead dispatcher position and more community outreach such as monthly coffee chats were also recommended.

According to the audit, in terms of communications, the municipality is several decades behind.

“Skagway utilizes a mixed grouping of portable and mobile radios. There is no standardization of radio equipment. Thirty percent of all radios are more than 20 years old and many are in disrepair or are no longer operable. Several vehicle antenna systems have deteriorated causing problems in both transmission and receiving.”

Repeaters located on AB Mountain and Goat Lake need replacing. New repeaters are in storage at the police department but the municipality has been unable to find a contractor to install the equipment.

While Haigh recommended utilizing the new repeaters as a backup, he urged the municipality to update its communications system.

“It’s not current, it’s old technology,” he said. “Back in the 1980s, it was state of the art. It’s not where we’re at today, there are much better systems that are out there.”

Haigh proposed utilizing Alaska Land Mobile Radio (ALMR), a statewide communication system for Alaska first responders. He described the system’s capability.

“When you get into the right trunking band on your radio, you can take a portable radio sitting here in City Hall today and talk to Anchorage on it,” he said. “And it’ll just transfer where you need it to go. The computers will make it work. So it’s hugely robust and does some pretty exciting stuff for you.”

Mayor Andrew Cremata said the audit was a “call to action.”

He described Skagway as, “always caught between this dichotomy between wanting to be a town of 1,000 people, but we’re not. We’re actually a mid-sized city that has to accommodate up to 25,000 people a day, for at least half the year. So that’s what we are. Because you can’t be a town of 1,000 in support of 25,000. You can only be a town of 25,000 and support 1,000. So where the money comes from and how it’s paid for is a debate for future meetings.”

Cremata stated Haigh’s fire department audit from December 2022

“could have very well saved the town from the fire we had this past winter. So I do see value in these reports in these studies.”

Moser reminded the audience that due to Skagway’s geographic location, the police force is uniquely isolated.

“They don’t have the benefit of mutual aid and backup, which would be typical in other areas of our country … they are their fate. Anything they have to deal with, they are facing on their own,” he said.