My Turn: Juneau police struggle is a management issue

Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2005

I am writing in regard to the Juneau Police Department issue of changing patrol officers' work schedules from 12-hour shifts to eight-hour shifts, an issue that has divided and alienated too many of those who protect our community on a 24-hour basis. (It is interesting to note that many police departments throughout the country are now doing just the opposite of what is proposed here and moving to 12-hour shifts.)

I believe Juneau Assembly members need to look long and hard at the needs and requests of their constituent base. After all the public testimony given, mounds of research provided, and countless communications received from the public, the Assembly has taken no action to determine whether the Juneau Police Department change of shift hours is really in the best interest of the community, even though it is apparent that, financially and logistically, the change is not good for the community or the police department. It should be clearly noted that this is not a "time off/work hours" issue; it is an "administration/lack thereof" issue.

There are more effective ways to deal with personnel problems than an extreme blanket initiative like changing shift hours. Presently, if a problem arises with an officer a blanket directive is sent out penalizing all officers, while the problem with the original officer often never gets properly addressed. Dealing with personnel problems on the individual level is usually more effective, and is a very important responsibility of upper level staff. There is a process called chain of command; if the lieutenants, captain, assistant chief and chief are not doing their jobs, we need to find others who will.

It is unfortunate that there has been little good-faith effort made by the administration or Juneau Police Department command staff to work with patrol officers and Public Safety Employee Association to address the issues the chief of police has cited as his reasons for changing the officers' hours from 12s to eights. There is no workable written policy dictating the procedures needed to guarantee case continuity; although in practice many officers work voluntarily with the opposite shifts to guarantee case continuity. There has never been a problem with officer availability; unless an officer is on annual leave they are contacted when needed.

Similarly, the chief's communication issue between command staff and night shift could easily be addressed by having the two lieutenants rotate every three months with their teams. Thus they would have continuous interaction with all officers all year rather than half the year.

One Assembly member stated that "you have to trust a leader to lead." I say in order to lead you have to have the trust and respect of those you are leading. It is sad and disconcerting that the majority of police department employees do not trust or respect their leader. This issue would have been avoided if the chief had trusted the men and women out on the street, doing their job, to work together and come up with acceptable solutions. There has been, for some time, a huge divide between command staff and patrol officers.

We need to hold our public employees accountable. This includes our chief of police, his command staff, the city manager, and above all our mayor. We pay their salaries and we have the right to expect them to earn these salaries by making appropriate administrative decisions. As it is, many believe that the city is being grossly mismanaged and what is going on at the Juneau Police Department is a direct reflection of that. When the city is sued, as the city of Anchorage was under similar circumstances, the cost will come out of all Juneau taxpayers' pocketbooks. During the next election cycle I hope all will remember the lack of support and leadership we have received from Juneau Assembly members .

• Molly Brink is a Juneau resident and wife of a police officer.



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