Thousands of people in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough just outside the city limits of Wasilla and Palmer are not covered by city police and rely solely on overworked Alaska State Troopers.
As residents of the ever-growing borough grapple for solutions to spiking crime, one idea is expanding the cities’ police service to those outer areas. But, at least in Palmer, city officials say that would be expensive, difficult and unlikely to happen any time soon.
About 7,000 people live inside Palmer city limits. It would nearly double the police department’s budget — adding an estimated $3 million every year — to provide police service to another 6,500 people in unincorporated areas nearby, according to a study compiled by the police department at the city’s request.
The idea has come up at recent town hall meetings in the area, Palmer City Manager Nathan Wallace said.
“It’s not going to be easy or quick, whatever happens,” Wallace said.
The Palmer City Council took up the issue this week with a brief discussion on the study. They found that an expansion would likely require the annexation of outlying areas or a contract with the borough to pay for more police officers, Wallace said. Either idea might be unpopular and increase property taxes, he said.
“It’s not something that we would just go out and say, ‘OK, we’re going to provide some police services, thank you very much.’ It’s something that has to start really at the citizens’ level, (those) that live outside the cities,” Wallace said.
The talks in Palmer are just one part of a broader discussion on crime and policing in the surrounding Mat-Su Borough. A recent study by the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center shows staffing of Alaska State Troopers in the region is one trooper per 2,000 residents, less than a third of the national average.
In a letter to the Alaska Legislature and Gov. Bill Walker this week, Borough Mayor Vern Halter described the situation in one subdivision just outside Wasilla as “a public safety emergency.” Halter said the state needs to fund more trooper positions in the borough.