Juneau passed over by federal funds for police

City doesn't qualify for the $5 million slated for Alaska

Posted: Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Despite having several vacant positions, the Juneau Police Department did not qualify for any of the $5 million in federal stimulus money announced Tuesday to go to Alaska for police staffing.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced the award of nearly $1 billion in federal stimulus grants to fund police officer positions across the country that have been cut or threatened to be cut. Fourteen law enforcement agencies in Alaska received grants that will cover 23 officers in the state, including one officer each in Yakutat and Sitka.

"Unfortunately we didn't qualify because we didn't have any positions that we had lost or were in danger of losing at that time," Juneau police spokeswoman Cindee Brown-Mills said. "That may change next fiscal year; we're not really sure."

The Juneau Police Department has not been fully staffed for the past several years, but it's not because of budgetary issues, Brown-Mills said.

"We are actually only down three officers right now," she said. "In the past it's been up to 10."

There are 53 officer positions at JPD, from the police chief all the way down to police reserve officers.

"In the past six months we have been really close to fully staffed on several occasions, but people leave through natural attrition for various reasons," Brown-Mills said. The city is facing a budget shortfall the next couple of years that Finance Director Craig Duncan estimates at about $4 million and $4.5 million.

Juneau Assembly Finance Committee Chairman David Stone said he doesn't think the Assembly would vote to cut police positions.

"My sense is the Assembly as a whole will support police, fire, sewer and water, the basic utilities first," he said. "That's a high, high priority."

Most of the communities in Alaska receiving the federal grants to hire police officers are remote villages. However, Anchorage will receive nearly $2.6 million to fund nine officer positions and Fairbanks will receive about half million dollars to fund two positions.

The grants pay for salary and benefits for three years with the requirement of keeping the position after the grant funds expire.

Sitka received $264,200 to fund a school resource officer that it had been unable to keep full time last year. The goal is to make the environment around the schools safer and to decrease violence and bullying, Police Chief Sheldon Schmitt said.

"It's also to promote the police department in a positive way and not necessarily as an adversary, but to educate and inform kids about the laws and their rights," he said. "Ultimately this grant helps to enhance the relationship between the school district and the police department."

Yakutat will receive $325,334 in stimulus money. Yakutat police could not be reached for comment.

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneaempire.com.

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