Since taking the helm at the Juneau Police Department a year and two months ago, Bryce Johnson has streamlined the command structure to ensure more information reaches his desk directly, opts to wear a police uniform rather than a suit to work and just got his resident fishing license.
The new police chief, formerly of Salt Lake City, was proud to tout the accomplishments and services of his department at a light-hearted luncheon of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, where he said he showed up because he heard there were warrants out for everyone’s arrest.
“A cop with a sense of humor,” one Chamber member chuckled.
During his presentation, Johnson showcased JPD’s consolidated dispatch center, which fields 911 calls for both the police and fire departments and whose dispatchers have helped deliver babies over the phone. The Community Service Officers, who handle traffic and parking complaints, got a special mention.
The majority of the talk focused on the varying tasks JPD is responsible for, in addition to responding to emergencies and conducing criminal investigations: airport security, school resources, SWAT, explosive ordinance disposal, and accident reconstruction, to name a few.
“We are a full-service police department, and I’ve been very, very, very, very happy to be with JPD for the past year because it is a really progressive, very professional police department,” he said, before giving a shout-out to his predecessor Greg Browning, who retired after 13 years with JPD. “When I got here I found it to be in very, very, very good shape.”
One change Johnson has enacted at the department is the way cases are forwarded to the investigation unit. In the past, patrol officers responding to a crime would gather minimal information, write it up in a report and forward to detectives who would do the follow-up work. Now, patrol officers do a little more leg work and hold onto cases for a few days to try to solve them before passing them off. That frees up the detectives to focus on bigger cases and also helps with “customer satisfaction,” as Johnson likes to call it.
Johnson noted there is an interesting disconnect between what Juneau residents perceive to be the town’s biggest issues compared to what police perceive.
In a survey conducted two and a half years ago, residents said they are most concerned with traffic, speeding and aggressive driving; stolen property and theft; and drugs and violent crime.
From the police perspective, Johnson said, now more somber in tone, the biggest issue is domestic violence and sexual assault, adding that Alaska leads the country in sex assault crimes.
“Our level of domestic violence and sexual assaults is alarming to me and the department as a whole,” he said, “so we put a lot of resources into that.”
Drugs are next on the list, especially since drug use can fuel other crimes. Many thefts and burglaries are committed by drug users who are looking for items to sell so they can get their next fix.
“Property crime is driven by drug activity,” Johnson said, adding, “They need to get the money, they usually get it by stealing something. So even though drugs aren’t high on people’s priority list, we know it contributes to other things, so we put some emphasis on that also.”
Speaking of drugs, cash seizures from drug busts are up, he said. JPD seized about $50,000 cash in 2013 up from $29,000 in 2012. There has also been an increase in heroin and marijuana seizures. Drugs such as mushrooms and LSD are much less of a concern, he said.
JPD has 52 sworn officers, but is looking to fill 10 positions, he said. He looked around the room and said he was really there to recruit.
“You guys look like you’d be good cops,” he said.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JPD by the numbers:
• Average response time to a call: Seven minutes
• Number of sworn officers: 52
• Ratio of officers to Juneauites: about 1 officer per 634 people
• Number of patrol officers working a shift at a time: Six to eight
• Number of JPD officers working airport security: Five
• Number of vacancies at the police department: 10
• By land mass, JPD is the second largest police department in the country (Sitka is number one)