My Turn: Enforcing laws 'out the road' is hard

Road would increase crime in Juneau area

Posted: Thursday, August 02, 2007

"Out the road" law enforcement has always been a problem for the limited number and distance of state troopers and city police officers. The problems with all-terrain vehicle users reported at Echo Cove highlight this issue.

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One of the big questions about the proposed Juneau access road is: How can emergencies, whether avalanche or vehicular, be attended to? What agency will be responsible? Where will the money come from? How much time will be consumed in an effort to get to the location as soon as needed? Safety issues are significant concerns, as Goldbelt's Bob Martin states.

Environmental impacts and ever-increasing costs of the planned 50-mile road to Katzehin' and a new ferry terminal out there' are frequently addressed. The social effects on our community, less so.

Several years ago, I made an appointment to meet with the Juneau Police Department chief. It was in relation to a quote of his that had appeared in the Juneau Empire before he left his job for personal business back east.

"Juneau will have an increase in drug crimes and gang activity if the road out of town gets constructed," was the statement I read and wished to follow up on. The chief had re-applied for the position with the department when it once again became vacant. He was enthusiastically selected.

When we met, he said he returned to Juneau with his family, because it was such a safe community to live in. He knew the Juneau access road was a "hot potato," and while he did not deny his previous statement, he added, "Someone would have to want to come down here awfully bad to do all that driving."

Well, yes.

I included this information in my testimony during one of the several public hearings on the environmental impact statement. Interestingly, my letter regarding those social issues was not included in the Department of Transportation's final draft EIS. In fact, there was only one sentence addressing law enforcement in relation to the road extension: "Law enforcement officials from the several communities stated there would be no significant impact."

An oversight? Or what.

I well remember when I moved to Juneau in 1975, I was told over and over that the isolation of our community kept crime down. In fact, violations of the law, when reported, usually resulted in quick arrests because the perpetrators couldn't escape except by plane or ferry. Juneau Assembly member Bob Doll, former general manager of the Alaska Marine Highway System, has confirmed that arrests were frequently made on board the ferry at its first stop.

Longtime resident Ann Fuller told me that in the "olden days," if a car was stolen it was considered a misdemeanor. But if a ferry was in, it was determined to be grand theft auto.

Law enforcement and safety issues "out the road" are dramatically illustrated by the current ATV problems. Who and how and at what cost can this be handled?

• Dixie Hood is a resident and counselor in Juneau.

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