Mr. Bill and Miz Mona

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Moose Pass Journal/Whittier/7-27-2011e

Bill Says: "Whittier-Unique Even In Alaska" was the city's motto and it was even displayed on the Department of Public Safety shoulder patch. But as with most new police chiefs, I designed my own patch and removed the motto from it. But in truth, Whittier was quite unique. The housing situation was odd enough and the association with the Alaska Railroad often unfriendly; the lack of stores; two extremely long tunnels to gain entry into the town, ( the 3.2 mile long one considered one of the longest in North America); the bizarre closed up community life inside Begich Towers and of course the town's infamous city council.

Made up of mostly senior citizens, the Whittier City Council could spend long meaningless hours arguing over the most trivial matters. Outside of department heads who were required to attend, no else did. The council even spent one whole evening debating, often in heated tones, on how the city's supply of toilet paper for the city's offices and shops should be purchased and delivered. There was also the memorable meeting when the council considered options in handling the black bear problem and the largest sow decided to attend. The bear entered the fire hall and stuck her nose into the council chambers, which were located in one of the classrooms of the fire hall, and had to be chased off. I figured she just wanted to have her say, but the mayor wouldn't go for it.

I caught on pretty quick as to why the normal citizen avoided these meetings. They were often just plain crazy and little work was accomplished. The City Manager, who became a friend of mine, would be shaking his head through the whole meeting and usually hoping he'd still have a job by the meeting's end. Whittier went through a lot of city managers and I was hoping the council members behaved better toward their police chiefs. The former director had lasted 2-years. Now,  I did get into several arguments with the council members and one of them hated me from the beginning- but he simply hated all cops. But I held my temper in the meetings, respecting their age as I was taught and we seemed to get along for all of 18-months.

But Whittier did have a bear problem and thankfully it was only black bears. I counted 8 separate bears, with old momma bear being about 300 pounds and easily identifiable with her face and right rear flank covered in scars. They loved to walk around town, entering the store once in a while and becoming a big nuisance for us.

One of the bears became somewhat unruly, chasing a customer through the grocery store, ( the owner went into hiding), came into my fire hall to check out the fire trucks and then wandered into the campground. It became interested with a camping trailer, began chewing on it and then started to tip it. These bears are pretty strong and in this instance, the trailer was occupied by a terrified woman. This time I was forced to deal with the bear harshly and put it down before it could hurt someone. The council members were upset with me- again and thought I could've just chased it off. But this bear had lost its fear of man and I knew only worse could come if I had not taken the action I did.

Trying to work with the council, who thought the bears were all pets, we used firecrackers on the bears to chase them off, even special non-lethal shotgun shells and later, we used bear spray. But sometimes, nothing seemed to work and we had to destroy the animal.

In one case I was called by the Alaska Railroad, who reported one of their train locomotives had struck a bear in the long tunnel. The bear was injured, but not dead. So, I sent Officer Mark into the tunnel to put the bear down and bring it out. He called me by radio before entering the tunnel to voice his wariness into carrying out this chore, "You want me to enter this long black tunnel to locate a wounded black bear and put it down. I should get hazardous duty pay for this, Chief!" As usual, Mark carried the job off and he wasn't mauled in the process.

We often responded to bear calls, but in my 18-months of working there we never had anyone mauled. But a month after I left a woman was mauled and thankfully survived. I had told them they couldn't treat these wild animals as pets, but the city council must've informed the new chief to do just that and this was the result.

One of my first investigations I worked in Whittier was unfortunately against the former Public Safety Director/Police Chief. A complaint was filed against him by who I would later term as a "town character".  The man had gone on the bad side of the police chief and it went down hill from there. After conducting my own investigation and showing the police chief at fault, I contacted the Alaska State Troopers and requested their involvement in this case so no bias could be shown. We had no troopers in Whittier and I was granted an Alaska State Trooper commission to handle duties outside my normal jurisdiction. This would come in handy when I had to handle problem calls inside the Prince William Sound and my responding to the various islands.

My predecessor had grown weary of the town character and arrested him for a charge of Disorderly Conduct. but once he got him into the jail cell, he had denied him of his rights as a prisoner. He refused him a blanket, denied him a phone call for 24-hours and didn't feed him during that time. To make matters worse, he tape recorded all his dealings with the prisoner and I had the tape. Oddly enough, my city manager suggested I lose the tape and I told him I couldn't do that. The trooper investigation resulted in the former chief being arrested in Valdez for two misdemeanor charges. He did plead guilty and was placed on one year probation. The injured party then brought civil suit against the city and won a cash award of $10,000. Again, the city council members were not overjoyed with me for bring the troopers in, but they hadn't realized how I had probably saved them $100,000 in a larger civil trial award if the man's lawyer had been able to show I had attempted to cover the matter up.

Except for a few domestics, a burglary and a dozen or so ambulance calls, the fall and early winter of 1988-89 was relatively quiet. I arrested the suspect for the apartment burglary and a second suspect for burglary of a small store inside the Begich Towers.

My City Manager had a heart attack, he was 70-years old and sent off to Anchorage. He had to have open heart surgery and on the day of his operation, Captain Hazelwood drove the Exxon Valdez onto a large rock inside Prince William Sound. Almost overnight, Whittier was transformed. The city became a staging area for the oil response crews. I lost more than half of my volunteers and needed to hire two additional police officers. I also created a five-man reserve police officer program to assist us with the increased work load.

As I said earlier, when I took the job the town averaged 300 calls a year. During the summer season of 1989,  the City of Whittier handled more than 3,000 calls.

Exxon and Vecco employees moved into Whittier and I leased them the council chambers to have as their office. Here they screened perspective employees for beach clean-up. The office workers would then bring me there employee applications and I would run them for warrants. As a result, we arrested over 2 dozen men wanted on misdemeanor and felony warrants. We also picked up two men wanted in lower 48 for major felony offenses.

The city council wanted me to arrange leases for the city's helipad  and even my rescue boat, but I had to deny them since the helipad belonged to the federal government and the boat was purchased on grant money. They were upset with me again, but I was now the Emergency Operations Manager. With the City Manager out for at least a couple of months, I was left handling part of his job and boy, I was way over my head. I was handling multi-thousand dollar leases and had to call in some favors for help in these matters. During this time I was also required to put together the city's first Disaster Preparedness Plan. I was working or staying at the station nearly 18-20 hours out of the day and Mona needed to bring the kids down to see what daddy still looked like.

Mona and I were required to become EMT-1, which I really didn't enjoy. But she did. I was also required to become certified as a high rail driver so I could drive the ambulance on the railroad tracks. This had to be the most boring class I would ever attend.

Along with the all the people coming in to town in hopes of finding a job on the clean-up crews, the trains brought in numerous unsavory people. I began to meet the trains and send people right back. These were the prostitutes and suspected drug pushers. Oh, they said I was violating their rights and I told them to file their complaints with the troopers in Anchorage, but no one ever did. I felt much like a town marshal kicking bad characters out of town, but I didn't need the problems. I told the train conductors to bill the city for the return fare, but they never did and it was one of the few times I got along with the railroad. ( More on that later).

One prostitute did get into town and I arrested her for a felony warrant. A judge in Anchorage reported she had AIDS and wanted her off the streets ASAP. She had already been with three men and I had the sad duty of notifying them. One attempted suicide, but I was able to get the gun away from him. Weirdly enough, the train tunnel was closed during this time and I had to transport this woman out through a top secret government tunnel that the US Army's tank farm used in Whittier. The woman kept trying to scratch or bite me, so I placed her in Carhart coveralls, her hands handcuffed behind her and in mittens and I duct taped her mouth. Now the secret tunnel was pretty small and an 8-foot long electric flat car was used to check the fuel line that ran through the tunnel. I placed her, lying down on the flat car, while I sat beside her to hold her in place. It was an extremely low ceiling and took us nearly half-an hour to traverse inside of the mountain and I was glad to be outside again. I then escorted her across Bear Valley, where the train crews were working and placed her on a railroad high rail car for the ride through the second tunnel and out to the highway, where the troopers were waiting.

While escorting her through the work crews, the men looked oddly at us and I heard one ask, "What did she do?" I could understand his curiosity from the way I had her all taped up. But I didn't answer him and I continued on with my prisoner. I was quite happy to get her out of town. The tunnel was closed for 7-days and everyone was stuck in Whittier because the trains were not running during this time. But we survived the hardship and the summer continued on.

More to follow.

1 comment:

  1. Ahh, those were the days!!! Whittier was a real educational experience.