Ketchikan’s new Police Chief Joe White gave a presentation Wednesday during the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce lunch.
Joe White has been acting chief since late January, when former Chief Alan Bengaard retired. White was officially hired to fill the position this month.
In his presentation to the Chamber, White said his goal is to increase connections between the police department and the community. He’s asked officers for suggestions, and said they’ve come up with some good ideas.
One is Coffee with a Cop. The first of those is set for 7:30 a.m. May 26th at Alaskan and Proud’s café.
“We’re not going to give speeches, we’re not there to push our agenda,” he said. “We just want to hear your issues, your concerns, your neighborhoods, anything like that. There probably will be four or five of us there to talk with the public.”
The city’s police department also is planning a chili cook-off in early June. That will be a competition between various first responders, including firefighters and state troopers. Ticket proceeds will go toward a charity of the winner’s choice.
White said the Ketchikan Police Department also plans to reinstate its bicycle patrol team this summer, so officers soon will be seen biking around town.
White said the police department is currently understaffed – some positions are vacant, and other officers are out on leave or for training. He said that makes patrol work challenging. They aim for four officers per shift, but recently have had to make do with two.
The department is recruiting, and White encourages local residents, especially youth, to consider law enforcement as a career option.
“Historically, we see as a department, if we can get a local person in the job, we’ll keep then five, six, 10, 12 years,” he said. “Versus if we pull somebody from California, Texas, we might get them two years. Three years, tops. That turnover rate is a whole lot higher than if we can get our hooks into local kids, get them in here.”
White added that they currently have just one female officer, and he’d love to hire more women.
Drug investigations are increasing, White said. For example, the department has seized 160 grams of heroin so far this year.
“Last year we had 26? 28? It’s a huge increase from last year,” he said. “This is a small community. It doesn’t take a lot of this kind of stuff to impact us in a large way.”
White said tips from the community are helpful, especially when combatting drugs. He said if someone notices a house with a lot of different visitors who stay for just a few minutes, that could be a sign something illegal is happening there. People can call in anonymous tips, which give police a starting point for an investigation.
Responding to a question from the audience, White said about 10 percent of the calls received at the police station are related to homeless and/or inebriated people. He said that’s a large percentage, and quite a bit of police time is spent taking care of inebriated people who don’t have anywhere to go.
White said the warming center that the Salvation Army operated during this past winter was a huge help.
“I can’t give you numbers, I wish I could. But I can tell you our guys spent much less time dealing with some of these people, because we were able to take them right to the Salvation Army,” he said. “They kept them overnight, kept them safe, kept them warm. So the police department spent a lot less time on them. The ambulance service spent a ton less time on them, transporting. The (emergency room) didn’t have to spend their time on them and we didn’t have to pay any protective custody screening bills.”
The warming center closed in March, but there are plans to reopen it this fall.
White also was asked whether there had been any marked increase in public use of marijuana since a retail store opened last month, or other problems related to the new industry.
White said not much so far, but it’s still early in the summer tourist season. So, we’ll see.