Hooper Bay leaders fear guns would make village more dangerous
By RACHEL D'ORO
The Associated Press
(Published: August 11, 2003)
HOOPER BAY -- When Hooper Bay's seven police officers go on patrol, they tend to deal with small-town peacekeeping duties, not the violent crime of their big-city cousins. And that's fortunate, for Hooper Bay is the only known municipality in the United States whose police officers are forbidden from carrying firearms.
The desire of officers to carry arms and the refusal of village leaders to permit them have caused a rift between the two. Town leaders fear firearms will just make the village more dangerous, even in the hands of cops. Police say town leaders are being unreasonable.
"Unpredictable, unexpected things don't happen here often, but they do happen," said Police Chief James Hoelscher, 27, who has lived in Hooper Bay since he was 13 and became a village police officer at 18. "A little Yup'ik Eskimo village is not immune to what can happen in Anchorage or Los Angeles or anywhere else."
Village leaders are unconvinced.
Elmer Simon, tribal government administrator, said he would support properly trained officers using guns -- but only in emergency situations. Otherwise, he said, they should keep them locked up.
"A lot of young people wouldn't hesitate -- especially if they're under the influence of alcohol -- to grab a handgun from the officers and use it against them," Simon said. "Not that we're against handguns. But accidents do happen."
Hooper Bay is a village of 1,100 on the windblown Bering Sea coast, about 515 miles west of Anchorage. It is among the last communities in Alaska without running water or a sewage system.
The village has existed for more than a century, incorporating as a city in 1966. It has steadily grown in recent years despite high unemployment and few job opportunities. Commercial fishing and subsistence fishing and hunting are the primary means of support. Well over a third of the population is unemployed and receiving public assistance.
And no one can remember a time when police carried guns.
Hooper Bay leaders cite concerns over potential mishaps or misuse of authority, even by professionally trained officers. Hoelscher and two other officers graduated last fall from the University of Alaska Fairbanks' law enforcement academy.
Both The Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police said they were unaware of any other organized municipality in the nation whose officers don't carry guns.
But Hooper Bay police have never carried firearms, old-timers say. And until the current flap, it's never been an issue.
"We're not a big enough village to justify carrying guns," said City Administrator Raphael Murran.
The chief said there's good reason for his officers to carry firearms. In fact, he keeps his own gun locked up at the station and, policy or not, he has taken it on a few potentially risky calls. It's not always possible to wait for armed help from state troopers in Bethel, 150 miles away, he said.
"I'd rather be fired than killed," said the married father of four. "I have a family to go home to."more