Sand Point loses entire police force

A police car sits unused in Sand Point. (Zoe Sobel/KUCB)

Sand Point faces a problem with its police force: It doesn’t have one any more.

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In just three weeks, all its officers resigned.

City Administrator Andrew Varner said the first officer wanted to be closer to a spouse who is in the military. A week later, two more officers, a married couple, left because of a “family decision.”

Varner said that left Police Chief Roger Bacon — who was scheduled to vacation in Scotland — as the island’s only law enforcement.

“There was sort of a mutual understanding that if he left to go for a month-long journey — leaving the community with no law enforcement — that if he came back, he would not be an employee of the city,” Varner said. “Within a day or two, he had turned in his resignation.”

All Bacon had to say about his departure was, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.” and that he was headed to Scotland.

According to city officials, there is a contingency plan. An Alaska State Trooper will be in town next week, and Sand Point is vetting an interim police chief.

Varner acknowledged losing the entire force in such a short time period might seem unimaginable to outsiders. But in Sand Point, struggling to hire and keep officers is the norm.

“Losing an officer in Sand Point, that’s certainly not new,” Varner said. “It’s certainly not new in rural Alaska either, especially in law enforcement. It’s kind of tough to keep officers around. Our department has basically been understaffed for years.”

After spending most of last year working to fill the now-vacant positions, Varner said not one of the officers worked on the force longer than six months.

Seeing every officer resign for family or travel illustrates Sand Point’s challenges as an isolated town of 1,000 residents, where round-trip tickets to Anchorage can cost more than $1,000. Varner said it’s difficult to provide enough compensation and flexibility to convince non-locals to stay.

“So we’ll bite the bullet, metaphorically,” Varner said. “We haven’t hit desperation mode yet, but if we don’t have any officers or a new chief within a couple months, then I think we would worry.”

Before the resignations, Varner said police were focused on dealing with Alaska’s opioid crisis and managing the seasonal population increase due to commercial fishing.

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