Officer shortage on verge of being ‘scary’

Task force examines solutions to staffing concerns, mulls video cameras downtown

Juneau police respond to a call on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

The Mayor’s Task Force on Public Safety met Tuesday and whittled down its list of recommendations to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly, with Juneau Police Department staffing the main topic of discussion.

 

As detailed by Deputy Chief David Campbell at the meeting, JPD is 11 officers short of full capacity with two more set to retire in the spring. That’s about 20 percent of JPD’s workforce, Campbell said.

“The numbers are starting to get kind of scary,” Campbell said.

Campbell said they’re in the process of hiring officers, but the hiring and training processes are very long. There are only two police academies available per year at the Department of Public Safety Training Academy in Sitka, with the next one coming up in February, Campbell said. Finding a way to speed up this process is likely one of the recommendations the task force will make to the Assembly, the task force members decided Tuesday.

Among the recommendations that the task force is looking to make to the Assembly include offering more bonuses for police staff, moving as much work as possible to non-sworn employees (those without a badge) and assuring that wages are competitive with other police departments.

This fall, Mayor Ken Koelsch asked that a task force be developed to look into the rising amounts of crime in Juneau. Deputy Mayor Jerry Nankervis is the chair of the task force, which includes Bartlett Regional Hospital Chief Behavioral Health Officer Bradley Grigg, Juneau Reentry Coalition Executive Director Don Haberger, Municipal Criminal Prosecutor Sherri Layne, Juneau District Attorney Angie Kemp and Safeway General Manager Terry Goff.

The list of recommendations is not finalized yet. The task force went through a list of possible recommendations Tuesday that had been brought up at previous task force meetings. They made it through most of the recommendations that were on the list, slightly altering a few and eliminating a couple more.

One of the recommendations that was taken from the list was asking that CBJ officials refrain from making statements linking an increase in crime to Senate Bill 91. SB 91, passed in 2016,promoted alternatives to long prison terms in an effort to reduce the number of people who return to jail after a first offense.

Nankervis said that with SB 54 rolling back some of the facets of SB 91 — and with the Assembly pledging its support for SB 54 — there was no need to keep the recommendation about SB 91 on the list. Other task force members agreed.

Nankervis said that he hopes that at the next meeting, which will take place Jan. 2, the task force will finish selecting its recommendations and will then prioritize them. Task force members agreed that they should prioritize their recommendations for the Assembly. Nankervis said he hopes to have that list ready after the next task force meeting.

Downtown on camera

One of the other recommendations from the task force might be to look into installing video cameras to monitor “high-traffic” areas downtown. That is, city-run cameras would go up to film places such as Front Street and Marine Park where criminal activity happens often.

The task force has not yet decided where the cameras would go, Nankervis said, but Front Street and Marine Park were mentioned in Tuesday’s meeting.

There was extensive conversation on the topic, and Campbell expressed concern about how the cameras would be perceived by the community.

“There’s part of me that likes the idea,” Campbell said, “but there’s also part of me that likes, ‘I’m down there for Gallery Walk. Do I really want to be on camera?’ I could see how there are some people who are going to be really opposed to the idea.”

Layne said that having video would help with prosecution after crimes, but task force members debated about how video could help actually prevent crimes.

Campbell said that if the camera feeds are constantly monitored, it could lead to a faster response from law enforcement to crimes in those areas. Multiple members of the task force said that just the presence of cameras (in businesses for example) helps discourage crime.

The cost of constantly monitoring the system, as Campbell and others brought up Tuesday, would be extremely high. The task force will likely recommend a more passive system that wouldn’t be monitored all the time, but could serve as a valuable resource for solving and prosecuting crimes.

Nankervis said that in general, these recommendations aren’t meant to be specific directives, but more of concepts and ideas for the Assembly members to consider.

“What I’m hoping to do with what we present to the Assembly is give them general thoughts and ideas,” Nankervis said. “I don’t want to get too far in the weeds with how we get down there and the Assembly and the management can decide if they want to go down that road.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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