Search for talent ongoing at JPD

Emergency staff works overtime to fill vacancies

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2007

Only two candidates of 12 who tested Thursday for openings in the Juneau Police Department's communications center performed well enough to move on in the hiring process.

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With seven open positions in the dispatch center - half the staff - administrative manager Cindee Brown-Mills said employees are working incredible hours to fill shifts for the 24-hour emergency center.

An eighth position will open next month, and the staff will continue to work 12-hour days, at least five days a week, she said.

Recruiting continues to be a challenge for the department as it tries to fill its ranks. For at least two years, the department has under-spent its payroll budget but overspent on overtime as full-time employees filled in for vacant positions.

There are six vacancies on the 48-member police force, not including four officers who are still in training.

"We'd prefer to be fully staffed," Police Chief Greg Browning said. "People can only be effective so much and then they need time off."

During the fiscal year that ended in June, the department spent $193,781 on overtime while it only spent $513,018 of $803,300 budgeted for salaries.

So much overtime can lead to job burnout.

The problem is not exclusive to Juneau. Forces around the country constantly struggle to keep their ranks full.

Last year, the Anchorage Police Department used a souped-up show truck as part of its recruiting program, blaring music and flashing lights to draw attention at public events. It also advertised on movie screens.

Alaska State Troopers spent $28,000 the same year to hire a television producer to create action-packed ads featuring Bush planes and speedboats.

Browning does not plan to go to such lengths to attract recruits. He maintains that Juneau is an attractive community to bring up a family, yet since it is the state capital and so isolated, the department offers job advancement unparalleled in a same-sized city.

"There are good opportunities here," he said.

Police officers with little experience can be trained to work on a bomb squad, a crisis negotiation team or a variety of other professional advancements. The force pays travel and other expenses for special training.

"Most towns this size, those opportunities don't exist," Browning said.

While some departments have lowered their standards for new recruits, Browning said he has raised them in the past few years by adding a drug screen and agility test. It's standard for police officer candidates to undergo psychological screening, background checks, a polygraph and oral interviews.

Salaries in Juneau are competitive with similar-sized forces. Police officers start at about $52,000 per year, and dispatchers at about $43,000.

But the isolation can make retention difficult. Sometimes families don't develop community connections or struggle with the harsh weather and decide to leave, Brown-Mills said.

• Contact Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kimberly.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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