Hoonah's new Chief of Police John Millan hit the ground running when he took the job in November to help build a positive relationship between the police department and the community.
Former Chief of Police Jefferson Hankla resigned in September after a tumultuous tenure that resulted in mudslinging, reprimands and lawsuits that left a divide in the community and Hoonah's police force. Millan is hoping to mend those bridges and restore a positive working relationship within the community.
"The police department focuses on teamwork. We're like a family," Millan said. "We want it so that the community feels like it's a part of - and not apart from - the police department."
Millan has a long law enforcement career as both a civilian officer in North Carolina and as a military police officer for the U.S. Marine Corps and the Army National Guard. He comes to Hoonah after serving 2 ½ years as the chief of police in remote Galena, Alaska.
"That kind of prepared me to work in any small, remote community in Alaska, and my background in North Carolina was always working in small towns, so it's not that different," Millan said of his new job.
Millan had dreamed of coming back to Alaska after a 14-hour layover at Elmendorf Air Force Base in 1989 following a tour with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve in Japan.
"I didn't have any time to go anywhere, do anything or see anything and I had always said that I wanted to come back," he said.
Millan found the opening in Galena on the Internet and soon thereafter found himself living and working in the remote village.
"You dealt with a lot of stuff in Galena that you deal with in any rural community - DUIs, fights, domestic violence, petty thefts," he said. "I tried to be a peace officer rather than an enforcer, and I think that approach goes over well."
Millan enjoyed Galena but decided to take the job as police chief in Hoonah after filling in as interim police chief during a two-week vacation after Hankla resigned.
"They offered me the job here and I took it, came down and hit the ground with both feet running," he said.
Millan has been working the past several months to create a better image of the department in the community's eyes.
"We're in the process of getting more user friendly uniforms," he said. "Some of the uniforms and equipment that the officers had, the public had expressed some comments that they felt it was a little intimidating. So having quality uniforms and equipment that get the job done but look user friendly to the public has been a focus."
The department is also looking to connect more with the youth in the community and have a greater presence within the schools.
"What I would like to see is when people see a police vehicle at the school, they don't say, 'Uh-oh, why were the police at the school?'" he said. "They just shrug their shoulders and say, 'They're there all the time visiting kids.'"
Millan has also been working on training opportunities. The department recently brought trainers from the AWARE shelter in Juneau to Hoonah to perform in-service training on domestic violence with the fire department, emergency dispatchers, school counselors and medical providers.
Millan is working to ensure the department makes the community feel safe by doing patrols at night, being courteous, friendly and focusing their enforcement where it needs to be, he said.
"I like to get on foot and walk along the shops on the waterfront and just be visible with the public," he said. "It's been really nice, the support I have gotten from the mayor and city council and the friendly reception that I've gotten from the people in town. Hoonah is a nice little town."
Millan is also looking forward to enjoying the beauty of Southeast Alaska.
"I like to fish, I like to boat, I like to hike, I like to travel and just seeing things and looking at the scenery and the wildlife," he said. "Alaska is a fun place."
Millan is looking forward to getting to know the community better, he said.
"I have an open door policy," he said. "I like people to stop by and talk to me."
Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.