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Retiring police chief reflects on 34 years in law enforcement

Posted: January 30, 2013 - 10:09pm  |  Updated: February 1, 2013 - 12:07am
Retiring Juneau Police Department Chief Greg Browning is seen pictured in his office at the police station.  Emily Russo Miller / Juneau Empire
Emily Russo Miller / Juneau Empire
Retiring Juneau Police Department Chief Greg Browning is seen pictured in his office at the police station.

As a college student interning at the Leon County Sheriff’s Office in Tallahassee, Fla., aspiring police officer Greg Browning caught glimpses of Ted Bundy being escorted to and from the office’s interrogation room.

“I saw him several times when they were doing investigations,” Browning said, adding that he helped chart the gas stations where the serial killer used his credit cards to buy gas in Colorado, Utah and Washington. “He’s kind of a strange looking character, I think.”

Browning’s internship with one of the units investigating the Bundy murders was one of the things that got Browning interested in a career in law enforcement. He graduated from Florida State University shortly thereafter with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminology.

Now, after 34 years in the business, the retiring Juneau Police Department chief says he’s looking forward to pursuing his hobbies, such as golf and photography. His last day on the job is May 31, then he says he’s moving back to Texas.

“I’ll be busy,” Browning said. “My wife thinks I might get bored, but I’m going to try it. I’ve worked since I was in high school, and I’m ready to be able to wake up and be able to do what I want to do, basically, for a while anyway. We’ll see what happens.”

The Albuquerque native began his career with the Amarillo Police Department in Texas immediately after he graduated from FSU. He worked his way up from the patrol division to a detective with a specialty in armed robberies.

He once helped solve a series of bank robberies after following up on a tip that everyone else ignored.

A dispatcher informed Browning that a caller had reported a man was spending a lot of money at a strip club, and that when someone asked, “How’d you get all this money?” the man responded, “I robbed the bank.”

“I can still remember sitting in the squad room, which is how we used to do things back then, and talking about what we were going to be doing for the day,” Browning recalled. “I talked about this lead, and everybody said ‘Eh, it’s nothing.’ But an FBI agent and I decided to go out anyway on it.”

They tracked the man down, and he gave police consent to search his apartment, whereupon police found stashes of cash with the marked bills from the robberies. It turned out the man was the “wheelman” whose job it was to stay in the vehicle as the banks are being robbed and to shoot police officers on sight if they responded.

“He’s there with a gun, and he said if the police came his job was to shoot the police,” Browning said. “Those guys all went to federal penitentiary.”

Browning ended up staying in Amarillo for 21 years, working his way up to captain. But he didn’t like the windy weather. And there was no scenery to speak of.

“I always kind of had this vision,” Browning said. “Remember the chief in Jaws? He’s the chief of a really small town on the ocean, so I had this kind of thing in the back of my mind where I wanted to be a chief like that. And then I found out about Juneau.”

It had everything, he said — the oceans, the mountains, the beautiful scenery.

“I never really thought about going to Alaska,” he said, “but I started doing a bunch of research on the Internet, and found out that I thought it would be someplace that I would really like. So I applied and here I am, 12, almost 13 years later.”

Browning was hired as the JPD Assistant Police Chief in 2000 and he was promoted to police chief in 2006.

The department has undergone significant changes in the past decade under Browning’s tenure, especially given technological advances.

Juneau police officers did not have in-car computers or video cameras before Browning arrived, and the JPD website was just a bulletin board of daily reports. Now, its website touts interactive features such as a crime mapping, the “Ask A Dispatcher” function, a Twitter feed, information releases and cases of interest to the public.

“It’s interactive between the community, and I think that’s been a big plus that’s resulted in a decline of calls for service in the past few years because people accessing the web are getting the information they need through our website rather than bothering a dispatcher,” Browning said.

JPD became the first — and is still the only — accredited police station in Alaska while Browning was at the helm. JPD also implemented a downtown patrol beat, and an honor guard.

The chief also began requiring the department to compile annual reports of crime statistics for an internal analysis and to submit statistics to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports.

According to the last annual JPD report, there was a 19 percent reduction in crime from 2010 to 2011.

“That’s not just random noise,” Browning said. “That’s a pretty significant reduction.”

Browning said that reduction could be due to many factors, including demographics.

“But I like to believe, though, that a little bit also has to do with the crime prevention efforts that we’ve put in place for years,” Browning said. “I’m a believer — it’s hard to measure crime prevention, how many crimes did you prevent? But I believe in being proactive and D.A.R.E. programs and getting officers in schools and things like that so we can try to prevent crime from happening down the road. So I believe that a portion of it is that too.”

It’s unknown what specific crime trends Juneau has seen prior to 2000 since JPD didn’t compile those statistics then, Browning said. But he says collecting that data will help answer those questions in the future.

He surmises that crime in Juneau is probably similar to what it looked like 10 years ago — low robbery, murder and auto theft rates and high vandalism, thefts and sexual assaults.

“We’ve seen kind of the same pattern the whole time I’ve been here, but this last annual report, we showed a big decline overall,” he said. “Hopefully that will continue, or at least maintain.”

Browning added that the reduction also has to do with police becoming more efficient with technology.

“It’s a lot more difficult to hide out and be a crook, it really is,” Browning said. “The technology has made it a lot more difficult. The forensics are better. The information flow is a hundred times better than it was when I started this career.”

Looking back, the chief says one thing he is most proud of is the high quality of the department’s staff. He said that’s a result of better recruiting practices and maintaining training standards despite a declining budget.

If there is one thing he could change, he said it would be for JPD to have its own forensic unit where a specialist goes out to process crime scenes.

“I would say our Achilles heel, or the thing that could stand the most improvement — it’s not really terrible, but we don’t really do our forensics here as well as we should, in my opinion.”

He added, “We have a good room for that downstairs, but nobody to staff it — never have.”

Browning announced his retirement earlier this month and gave plenty of notice because he knew it would take a while to go through the selection to find the next chief, and also so he can be helpful during the transition period. He says he will miss Juneau when he leaves.

“I miss every place I’ve been: I miss Florida, New Mexico, Amarillo, and I’ll miss Juneau tremendously,” Browning said. “This is a very special place, and it will always be near and dear to my heart. But it’s time to move on.”

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

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