Adjusting to loss of village policeman

Except for occasionally visiting troopers, Angoon has no police

Posted: Monday, July 12, 2004

ANGOON - Alaska State Trooper Mark Granda switched on the citizen band radio in the village police car, as he continued to drive on the empty tree-lined road.

"If something happened, I couldn't call for backup," he said, noting the absence of a police radio in the Angoon Police Department car.

The department has two vehicles for a little more than five miles of road that lead no farther than the ferry out of the only permanent settlement on Admiralty Island.

Since February, the village of 500 has had no police, except when a state trooper is down from Juneau for a visit.

"We try to get down a couple of times a month," Granda said, during the July 4 weekend.

Other times they have to respond to incidents where there is concern for public safety. Response times can depend on "conditions," he said.

At best, Angoon is about a 30-minute flight for state troopers. Floatplanes serving it don't fly at night or in rough weather.

Former Police Chief Jess Daniels said he was the lone officer when he retired on Feb. 13, after his hours were being cut. It wasn't for lack of work, he added. "I was definitely busy."

Daniels said he was not willing to be reduced to part-time hours while remaining on call full-time.

In Juneau, trooper Sgt. David Tracy said the three troopers working out of his office have been making more trips to Angoon since February.

"The assault calls are generally the ones we respond to," Tracy said. "Domestic violence we respond to."

At the same time, officers continue to cover the rest of northern Southeast Alaska, making visits to places smaller than Angoon, such as Kake, Pelican and Tenakee Springs.

Angoon still has a police dispatcher. Irene Paul said she works part-time as a volunteer. When she goes home or leaves the office to go to the store, she switches the 911 telephone to a portable hand-held radio she keeps with her.

Paul also comes in at night to sound the curfew alarm on the roof of the Angoon Public Safety office, letting children know they are to be in at 10 p.m. on school nights and 11 p.m. on weekends and during the summer.

"If I don't blow the horn, they don't go home," she said.

Mayor Walter Jack said Angoon is no different from any other Southeast Alaska village. State cuts in money going to the villages means they can't afford services, he said.

Angoon is on Kootznahoo Inlet on the southwest coast of Admiralty Island, about 55 miles southwest of Juneau. During the 2000 census, the unemployment rate was listed at 12.95 percent, and about half the adult population was out of the work force. Nearly 28 percent of residents were living below the poverty standard.

Jack said the village council requested the trooper presence for the holiday weekend.

Granda, who slept in a sleeping bag atop an air mattress on the floor of the public safety office during the weekend, said leaving his family in Juneau wasn't his first choice for the holiday.

Angoon can be a quiet place - especially when a trooper is in town, he said. "Usually people are pretty mellow when they know we're here."

When there are problems, they usually happen when troopers aren't around, he said. Recently an assault was reported shortly after a trooper caught the commercial flight out of town, he noted.

The holiday weekend was quiet enough that Granda didn't make use of either of the jail cells at the office, he said.

After arriving Saturday, he followed up on a few reports people had made between trooper visits. He said he did find someone in possession of beer and forwarded the case to the Juneau District Attorney.

The people of Angoon have voted to ban possession of alcohol in the community, but Granda said there isn't an enforcement detail to work to keep it out.

"Angoon's supposed to be dry," he said. But it isn't hard to bring a bottle of whiskey into town, and the person selling it could demand a high price, he added.

The most frequent problem in Angoon is assault, and most of the assaults are alcohol-related, he said.

Angoon resident Richard George said alcohol is a problem.

"There should be some sort of alcohol prevention activity in the community," he said. He blames the governor for not making the state crack down on bootlegging in Angoon.

"We are at the bottom of the list," he said. "Places a lot smaller than we are have airports. There's no cell phone service, not because we don't want it or can't use it."

George said he was happy there was a trooper in town for the holiday weekend. He feels safer with a law-enforcement presence.

"Even when someone is drunk, when they see an officer, they take a step back and say, 'Yes sir,'" he said.

He said he isn't the only one in Angoon who is concerned for the young people, but he added that the need for full-time law enforcement "rings in my ears."

Last July, his son, Richard "Buddy" George Jr. was killed in Angoon. Denni Starr, the younger George's girlfriend, is scheduled to stand trial in September on a second-degree murder charge.

Even though there was a police presence last summer in Angoon, Granda recalled that because of the severity of the case, he flew down on a chartered helicopter that night to begin work on the case before Alaska Bureau of Investigation officers could take it over.

He said public safety is always the concern. In late June, troopers arrested a 32-year-old woman on assault charges and lodged her at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center after a report that she had kicked in the doors of a relative's home and assaulted the occupants.

Angoon resident Maxine Fred-Thompson, a former mayor, said she believed the community would get a village public safety officer.

Trooper Capt. John Glick in Anchorage, who oversees the VPSO program, said there was an applicant for full-time placement in Angoon, "but at the last minute he had a change of heart."

The program is administered by nonprofit corporations with state money, Glick explained. About a year ago, when Angoon still had a police force, VPSOs in Southeast communities were cut, but after reorganization they are available again.

"Their authority is more limited" than a trooper's, he said. They can only act as primary investigators in misdemeanor cases. But they provide an important presence that isn't otherwise there, Glick said. "In a felony domestic violence case, they can get the victim to a safe place."

He said it is just a matter of a qualified applicant coming forward who wants to serve Angoon.

Fred-Thompson said the quiet holiday weekend illustrates the need for a full-time officer in the community. "Everyone's got their best foot forward," she said.

Angoon needs an officer, and an outside person with no ties to political or family factions would be best, she said. There are a few large extended families in Angoon, she added.

But the big problem in the community is money, with the state cutting revenue sharing, she said. "To Angoon, revenue sharing is like the life blood."

Industry is limited because the community is surrounded by the Admiralty Island National Monument and Kootznoowoo Wilderness, she added. "We've been here for thousands of years, and we have less than six miles of road."

As Granda drove to talk to a woman about a complaint she had filed between trooper visits, a friend in a pickup truck told him the word was out to buckle up because the law was in town.

Granda said he isn't big on traffic enforcement. The car isn't equipped with radar, and he has no way to measure the sobriety of suspected drunken drivers.

A few people walking waved when they saw him. A woman's voice came over the CB radio to discuss decorating bikes for the holiday parade the next day.

Granda said if he really needed help, he could put a call out to the community for assistance.

Angoon resident Melanie Fredrickson said she was happy to see Granda when he showed up at her home. She said she wrote a letter to the council about the need for a police officer "for everything that goes on in this town."

She said Angoon needs an officer who isn't related to anybody and can do his job. "We need a cop bad."

• Tony Carroll can be reached

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