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Small class for citizen police academy

Many questions answered during educational experience

Posted: December 25, 2011 - 12:16am
Police officers Chris Gifford and Lt. Kris Sell outfit George Danner into riot gear as his wife Assemblywoman Ruth Danner looks on, Wednesday, at the Citizens' Academy at Juneau Police Department headquarters.  Emily Russo Miller / Juneau Empire
Emily Russo Miller / Juneau Empire
Police officers Chris Gifford and Lt. Kris Sell outfit George Danner into riot gear as his wife Assemblywoman Ruth Danner looks on, Wednesday, at the Citizens' Academy at Juneau Police Department headquarters.

Usually it’s the kids who attend mock Juneau Police Department academies in Juneau, but this week it was the grown-ups who had the chance to join in on the fun.

The public was provided an opportunity Wednesday evening to get a glimpse of what goes on behind the often closed doors of their local police station.

Only four people turned out for the event — an assemblywoman and her husband, a semi-retired physician and a reverend. But having a small audience had its advantages, as each person received an incredible amount of attention by having all their questions answered, toured the building and met with the police chief and police officers one-on-one.

“I know that I’ll learn something new,” said Assemblywoman Ruth Danner when asked why she attended.

The educational visit to JPD headquarters was part of the City and Borough of Juneau’s Citizens’ Academy series that aims to provide information on how local government is organized, how services are funded and delivered and how all the separate arms of government work together to serve Juneau.

The Juneau Citizens’ Academy has met once a month since October to tour different CBJ facilities like the finance department, the library and the fire station. This month, it was all about local law enforcement.

Police Chief Greg Browning and Lt. Kris Sell, who has been on the force for 14 years, began the session with a powerpoint presentation on what services the department provides and organizational structure. The presentation covered how the department was affected by budget cuts, crime prevention tips, and local crime trends.

Then, Officer Chris Gifford and Sgt. Scott Erickson showed off the SWAT team’s gear, like tear gas canister guns, protective helmets and shields and bulletproof vests. The group then checked out some of the patrol cars, toured the mobile incident command post and met one of the few persons qualified to drive it, JPD community service officer Bob Dilley.

“I just expected them to be talking and just giving us a dry speech, and it was just fascinating,” Rev. Jonathan Winchester said afterwards. “I was blown away by the — I never expected them to do what they did, to take us through and show us everything.”

It was Winchester’s first time meeting with the police chief in his 10 years in Juneau, and his first time in the building. Before the retired Jesuit missionary was ordained into the priesthood in 1986, he was enrolled in a criminal justice doctoral program in Southern California that worked with prisoners, and sought to find more promising alternatives to incarceration. Then, he met Crow medicine men from Montana and began working on four different reservations with tribal police and alcohol and drug abuse offenders. He has toured at least 100 police departments across the country over the years in his work.

“I never lost my connection with law enforcement,” he said, noting he was extremely impressed with JPD after the event.

Winchester added, “For being a small town, they have an extremely progressive and modern police department. This town can be very proud of its police department.”

Dr. Carolyn Brown said she wanted to visit JPD to participate in government, and to show her appreciation for all that the police department does.

“I came here tonight because I really, really appreciate the immense work you all do,” she told the chief.

George Danner joked that “My wife told me I was going.” But in all seriousness, he added that he was “just curious” and wanted to learn more about city business.

Browning said he was glad CBJ offered hosted the Citizens’ Academy, especially because the department no longer offers an adult academy to learn about JPD. It used to offer a nine-week long course once a year for a number of years, he said.

“After a while it got to the point where we just couldn’t get enough people to sign up for those to make it worthwhile, so we went to a Junior Police Academy that has been extremely popular,” Browning said.

The Junior Police Academy is held over the summer for middle-school aged children. It was first developed in 2009.

The next installment of the CBJ Citizens’ Academy that is open to the public will be held Jan. 19 at the Assembly chambers for the finance department. For more information, visit juneau.org or call 586-­5240.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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