The Friday before fishing: a ride-along with Dillingham police

Jun 23, 2017

As Dillingham swells with seasonal workers, Dillingham's police officers are on the road, patrolling to ensure the safety of people and property.

Officer Taner Lowery gives a ticket for driving an ATV on the road.
Credit KDLG

At the start of the fishing season in Dillingham, excitement is in the air, in the bar and in the boatyards. Last week there were nine incident reports, 11 people taken into protective custody because they were too drunk or incapacitated to care for themselves, 11 tickets and two arrests.

KDLG’s Avery Lill rode along with a Dillingham police officer last Friday to get a piece of the action and came back with this story.

Audio Transcript: It was the last Friday night before fishing started in the Nushagak District. Fishermen and processors from around the state, country and further afield descended on Dillingham to mend their nets, prep their boats and get ready to catch salmon. Town was packed.

I got to the police station to meet Officer Taner Lowery at 10 p.m. When I arrived, he was out on a call, a report of a potential assault, which turned out to be nothing.

When Lowery got back from the call, he led me through the station. Two other officers were there, one manning the front desk, one working on a report.

It was still light when we headed out on patrol. We didn’t even make it a mile down Lake Road, a 10-minute drive from the station, before something caught Lowery’s eye, an ATV on the road.

“Here we go. We have something right here if I can turn around and catch them,” he said, making a U-turn and flicking on his siren.

As the ATV pulled to the side of the road, the rider gave an exaggerated shrug, as if to say, “What?” Beyond that, the interaction seemed pretty cordial from the passenger seat view. Lowery gave the driver a ticket, and we all continued on our way.

An hour passed. As we drove, Lowery talked about wanting to be a cop since he was kid. He graduated from the police academy in his hometown of Fairbanks three years ago and came straight to Dillingham. The biggest surprise for him was the amount of paperwork that comes with being a police officer.

“Every time we pull a case we have to write every little detail of what we did during that whole case. A big report can be easily 15 pages of just writing. It’s really time consuming. A lot of us come in on our days off because sometimes we just don’t have time and need to get them done in a certain period,” says Lowery.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the Dillingham Police Department has had an unfilled position for a couple years.

“The fewer cops we have, the more hours we work,” says Lowery.

We cruised from town to the school, airport, dump, hospital and back.

“I am blown away that we haven’t had a call yet. I have been busy all week, like constantly.” Lowery says as he begins the circuit again.

Lowery made a stop by the fireworks stand next to the water tower to make sure the doors were locked and the stand secure.

One quiet hour stretched to two and then three hours tooling around town.

“It’s definitely dead,” says Lowery after checking the doors at the airport. “I’ll go do a bar check. There will be a fight, maybe, at the bar.”

There were no fights and no inebriates to take in for a night of protective custody. The roads emptied, and fewer and fewer people were walking down the hike and bike trail.

“So far today has been a lot more chill. Today is just a freak accident it’s looking like. Fridays are usually never chill. Usually everyone’s out and about more on Fridays than on any other day of the week,” says Lowery.

Finally, past one in the morning in the morning Lowery did get a call about a man who refused to leave to the Sea Inn bar downtown. When we arrived, the other officer on duty was already there with the drunk man in the parking lot. Lowery and the other officer talked to the man. He yelled that he is within his rights to be in the parking lot. That is technically true because the bar’s property line ends close to the door.

“He’s not doing anything but yelling at the bar. The bar’s loud, so yelling at the bar isn’t a crime,” Lowery explains.

With some convincing the man made his way home. Shortly afterward, I did too.

One might expect the last Friday before fishing started, with town swollen to roughly twice normal size on one of the longest days of the year, to be wild. It wasn’t.

No brawls. No signs of theft. Not even a headlight out. It was a successful evening in terms of good behavior for the city of Dillingham.

And while I didn’t witness town’s rowdier side, a quiet night did give a window into the rhythm of one cop’s patrol which can fluctuate between busy and not.

“On Thursday or Wednesday it was non-stop from the time I got on until about midnight,” says Lowery, who was on his way back to work on paperwork at the station. “It was just call after call after call. But really it’s just random when stuff happens.”

And that’s why they’re out here on the streets every day, keeping an eye out in case something turns on a dime.

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.