After 25 years with the Juneau Police Department, Chief Mel Personett announced Thursday he will resign from his position April 26.
The 50-year-old said he won't rule out returning to police work in the future, but wants to concentrate on his family, his garden and travel.
"I've done this since I was 22 years old," said Personett. "I've taken enough away from my family and it's time to start giving something back to them."
What Personett's family may have lacked, the police department received in his 22 years as an officer and nearly three years as chief, said coworkers.
"Working with him has been a learning experience," said Assistant Chief Greg Browning. "I came from a big department where I was captain and had experience. When I came here I knew how things would run but he always was able to provide the local knowledge that was invaluable. ... He will be hard to replace."
Capt. Tom Porter credits the near-seamless move of the department in 1999 from downtown to the Lemon Creek area to Personett's leadership. City Manager Dave Palmer said Personett helped get the building approved and built before he became chief and was instrumental in pulling the department together to make the transition once he was appointed.
But Personett didn't want the department to stop growing once the building was up and occupied, he said. One of his goals was to bring the department into the 21st century.
It was a challenge at times to get everyone on the same page with changes in the department, but officers and staff did their best to adapt, he said. This has created, he said, an environment of better law enforcement and laid the groundwork for a more technologically advanced department.
"Police departments are steeped in tradition," Personett said. "But at some point you have to grow forward while respecting that tradition. I'm sure the first department that said 'it's time to tie up the horses and get into cars' had some difficulty making the transition. ... These are extremely difficult changes to make but they had to happen."
By 2004, Personett said he hopes to see an entirely "paperless" police department. Due to a federal grant Personett helped obtain, the department received $976,000 to update its technology. This includes installing video cameras and computers in police vehicles, holding video arraignments, setting up a police department Web site and an all-electronic ticketing system.
Personett said these changes improve productivity and get officers into the community where they are needed.
He said a community the size of Juneau should have a staff of 60 to 65 in its police department. The amount of money available for the department limits salaries and recruitment, resulting in Juneau having a staff of 45 people, he said.
Palmer said the city will advertise the position in national police trade magazines over the next several months but that local people will not be discounted in the process.
Melanie Plenda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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