Police chief: Local crime below national average

With little major crime, citizens seek speed control, chief says

Posted: Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Juneau has far less serious crime than many other communities of the same size, according to Police Chief Mel Personett.

In communities between 25,000 and 49,000, there typically are 32 robberies per year. Juneau had three, said Personett.

The average number of burglaries in such communities was 217; Juneau had 75, he said.

"Murder, rape and robbery don't seem to be big issues for the community," he said today. "When we go to community meetings, people see Juneau as pretty safe. But they want speed control."

In meetings he has had with the public, Personett said he learned that the community wants pro-active policing such as traffic enforcement on Egan Drive and within residential neighborhoods.

"We now have seven officers in training that should clear in April, and then we can deploy some eight-hour supplemental shifts along with the 12-hour shifts we have now," he said.

Other than two vacant dispatch positions, the police department is fully staffed, he said.

"We have had many years since we have had all our positions full, but now we have Greg Browning as assistant chief and Capt. Tom Porter as captain of operations, so we are up to snuff," he said.

The department is expanding into new areas, preparing for possible school shootings, riots and drug labs, Personett said.

With federal discretionary funds "just short of $1 million," Personett intends to equip his officers to respond to emergencies such as the World Trade Organization riots in Seattle. In a presentation to the Juneau Assembly last week, he said shields and helmets are part of the equipment needed. Along the same lines, JPD's officers have had training for bomb disposal, but need a transportation trailer and remote control robot to help them.

"We are the capital. We need to be prepared to address these things," he said.

Riots may seem far-fetched for Juneau, but "I wanted the assembly to be aware that we are not your normal police department that can have agreements with neighboring communities and wait for equipment to be borrowed," he said.

Personett touched on specialized issues such as the need to target "the active gunman." This issue arose after the murder of students at Columbine High in Colorado. Before Columbine, when gunmen roamed a school, the standard response was to summon a tactical team and secure perimeters, Personett said. That can allow gunmen time to shoot more victims, he said.

"Now you deploy small teams of officers and have them run to the gunfire rather than securing each portion of the building first," Personett said. His force has had training to do this. "It's high risk, but that's what (police) do."

Another new area is training landlords and personnel at hotels and motels about how to spot methamphetamine laboratories, he said.

A lot has changed since Personett attended Juneau schools 25 years ago, when the high school administration would have to warn students not to bring shotguns to the building for after-school duck hunting.

"In those days, the concern was about accidents rather than attacks," he said.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.

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