Wrangell’s police department has been without a chief for the past six months. After a lengthy search, the city finally has someone to fill the role.

A police sergeant with more than 20 years of experience is taking the police chief job in Wrangell. Thomas Radke is from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He will join the force after  the new year.

This is long awaited news for city officials and the short-staffed department.

Lt. Bruce Smith has covered much of the chief’s role. He’s taken on the administrative duties, while still responding to incidents in the community.

“So it will be really nice to have a police chief back to work on those as a full time issue and let me back in patrolling and investigations where I’m supposed to be,” Smith says.

Long-time police chief Doug McClowsky retired in June. But the city began its search for a replacement in April, posting the job three separate times, and conducting two rounds of interviews.

Along the way, city officials agreed to up the ante.

“It became apparent to us, given the negotiations that we had gone through that Wrangell was not competitive in terms of salary,” City Manager Lisa Von Bargen says.

The assembly approved bumping the salary range, by about $20,000.

“Sometimes you have to sweeten the pot a little bit,” Von Bargen says.

The salary for Wrangell’s soon-to-be Police Chief Radke isn’t set yet, but it could be as high as $121,000.

Across the nation, law enforcement agencies struggle to recruit personnel. Even with a new police chief on the way, Wrangell’s force is one officer short.

Hiring problems in remote Alaska are not unique to law enforcement. The city often has to  look outside of town, or even the state, to fill jobs. And Von Bargen knows that Alaska is not an easy transition for many professionals.

The search for a finance director in Wrangell  took a year and a half. When former finance director Lee Burgess left the job, the city asked him to fill-in remotely. 

The city has also paid for a compensation study, to assess how competitive its salaries are for all personnel, not just those in uniform. That study should be released to the public, and the local IBEW union, in early January.