Retiring Ketchikan police chief looks back, ahead

KETCHIKAN — When Ketchikan Police Chief Alan Bengaard retires in early 2017, he’ll be ending an almost 30-year career in law enforcement.

Bengaard, 53, informed the City of Ketchikan in late November of his plans to retire in January. A Ketchikan native, he’s been with the Ketchikan Police Department for about 28 years, and has served as chief since being appointed in December 2011, reported the Ketchikan Daily News.

Some of the biggest changes to how the Ketchikan Police Department operates and the types of crimes it deals with have come about due to a transition away from logging and fishing, according to Bengaard.

“Now we’re much more of a tourism and government-based economy, and you see that reflected in the calls that we have,” Bengaard said. “It used to be very rough and tumble, (and) we just don’t see much of that anymore. … The downtown core was just a number of bars — if I recall correctly, 12 or 13 bars in the downtown core — and back in the ‘80s we had a 5 a.m. bar break. So we ended up, in the summer months at 5 a.m., you’d have hundreds of people in the downtown area getting out of bars.

“It was a different dynamic entirely,” Bengaard added.

There was a period of time when Ketchikan averaged about one murder per year, according to Bengaard.

The last murder in Ketchikan was committed in August 2015.

Drug offenses committed in the First City — specifically, the types of drugs involved — also have changed over time, Bengaard said.

“Our drugs and drug usage typically follows what you see in the Pacific Northwest and a lot of the West Coast, we’re just a little behind,” Bengaard said. “In the ‘80s, cocaine was huge here and there was a small heroin population. … Now we’re seeing methamphetamine, which is the most common (drug) that we see on the street. And now heroin’s having quite a resurgence. We’re seeing it a lot more often than we have before.”

Opioids and prescription pain medicines also have been present in Ketchikan, Bengaard added.

“The biggest change we’ve made in the last year, and I still see it’s going to be something we adapt to over a period of time, is (Senate Bill 91),” Bengaard said. “ … It’s made a substantial difference in the way we approach our street work; line officers are affected the most by it. It’s something that they have to learn and adapt to over a period of time.”

The bill, signed into law in 2016, is aimed at criminal justice reform in the state. The law reduces the severity of some drug charges and changes sentencing guidelines.

Bengaard and his wife, Heidi, plan to move to the Lower 48, and have already bought a house in Vancouver, Washington.

“Our kids are all grown, (and) they live out of state, so we’re pretty much going to chase them down,” Bengaard said.

“ … It’s been a great time,” Bengaard added about his career at the KPD. “People in the community probably ought to recognize that, those of us in law enforcement in the community, this is a tough job to have when you’re in a small, isolated community like this, because you’re literally on the job 24/7. Everywhere you go, everyone you talk to, they know who you are and what you do for a living.”

Members of the Ketchikan City Council, during a December council meeting, thanked Bengaard for his service.

Bengaard’s last day as chief will be Jan. 27. His successor will be appointed by City Manager Karl Amylon.

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