Short-staffed HPD manages large drug crackdown
It’s not just schools, restaurants, and hospitals experiencing a workforce shortage, the Homer Police Department has faced those challenges as well, according to Chief Mark Robl.
“We've had an extreme staffing shortage that's hit every division of the police department. So we're, we've been two police officers down to start with this summer. That was due to some retirements we had earlier this spring and, and that just got compounded by add almost one officer out all summer long due to COVID or a COVID quarantine mandatory quarantine situation. So that further reduced our staffing in patrol,” he said. “And of course we had a lot of vacation requests we were trying to accommodate. So we were very short-staffed in patrol and basically in, in a response mode, most of the summer, trying to put out fires and, and keep up with the calls that we were getting.”
Robl told the city council that the slower pace after the tourist season has allowed the department to catch up on an increase in illegal drug sales in the city.
“One thing I want to note is that throughout the summer, we were picking up bits and tidbits of drug intelligence information. We've seen an uptick of drug sales in the city, and we started responding aggressively to those here, now that we've had some more time to work, those types of cases here in September,” Robl said. “So in the last nine days, we filed over 50 felony charges against various individuals here in Homer. We've made several arrests and we have outstanding arrest warrants for other folks that we haven't located yet.”
In this exchange with Councilman Heath Smith, Robl talked about some frustrations he’s been having.
“We've been having a, I would say, a harder time getting search warrants out of the court system. They've, they've tightened their requirements and they seem to be going beyond what I think the legal requirements are for, to apply for a search warrant,” Robl said. “So some of the judges have really tightened that up and we've had to kind of revamp our approach for that in to make those warrants go through.”
“So do you think, just to follow up, so do you think that is to increase the chances of success through prosecution or that they're just trying to not keep the caseload through the roof?” Smith asked.
“Hard for me to speculate on that, but the way I look at it, as we do it, we do a better job on those warrants and it's certainly going to help with the successful prosecution of these cases,” Robl said. “So it's all good.”
The chief and several council members had an extensive discussion during last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting about traffic enforcement. While traffic complaints such as speeding in neighborhoods were heard often by some council members, the chief said the department rarely receives calls regarding them.