FAIRBANKS AK April 13 2018 —More locks. More cameras. More security personnel. Some building owners in downtown Fairbanks are adding safeguards to combat problems with drunks, thieves, vandals, squatters, trespassers and rabble-rousers.
The latest to add security is the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, which is installing lights, locks and a security guard at its downtown office building, according to a March 5 email to the Board of Education from Superintendent Karen Gaborik.
“Over the past couple years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of security incidents at the administrative center,” Gaborik wrote. “This year has been particularly challenging. Almost every week a department struggles with a challenging visitor that is under the influence and often verbally or physically aggressive.”
A school district employee was assaulted while leaving the administrative center, Gaborik wrote. Employees have also been threatened, and the superintendent is looking into what policy changes would be necessary to allow staff members to carry pepper spray.
David van den Berg, executive director of the Downtown Association, said security is a top concern among downtown businesses and that he planned to meet with Police Department officials this week to discuss security issues, including “seeking assurances from Mayor (Jim) Matherly that there will be a dedicated officer downtown this summer,” van den Berg wrote in an email.
John Bachner of Bachner Companies, which owns commercial properties around Fairbanks, including four properties downtown, said he has been increasing security at his properties in recent months and years, including installing cameras and hiring security personnel.
“There are a lot of vagrants,” he said. “You find them passed out in a stairwell. You find them in a room with their cellphone plugged in an outlet.”
Shawn Evans of Alaska Commercial Properties said his company has put in new doors and locks recently at the Worthington Building where the Fairbanks Children’s Museum rents space.
“We’ve had people breaking into this building,” he said.
In late 2016, security upgrades were made at the Juanita Helms Administrative Center, home of the Fairbanks North Star Borough government. Security doors were added in the mayor’s office, and a new emergency exit was installed for employees on the first floor. The main lobby was remodeled with the reception desk moved to the center of the room to make it easier for anyone sitting at the desk to see who is coming in the front door as well as see into the Borough Assembly chambers.
The borough also posts security personnel at the downtown bus depot.
“We have had security at the Transit Center for many years,” wrote Transportation Manager Michelle Felix in an email. “At the beginning of (fiscal 2018) we reduced some of those hours. We are currently in the process of restoring those hours and have budgeted for that increase in (fiscal 2019).”
Downtown safety concerns came up at a City Council meeting in February, according to Teal Soden, spokeswoman for the city mayor. The concerns came up in the context of a liquor license renewal, and Matherly is talking with business owners along Second Avenue about their concerns, she said.
Recruiting and retention is a challenge at the Police Department, which is short-staffed and whose union members are in a dispute with the city over their labor contract. Last August, Chief Eric Jewkes briefed the City Council on the problem, and the council in December approved retention bonuses of $1,300 to $3,300 for police officers and dispatchers who remain with the department through 2018.