Juneau Police Department addresses staffing shortages, officer wellness at Chamber luncheon

    Deputy Chief David Campbell answers questions at the luncheon Thursday, Mar. 9. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Juneau Police Department's Deputy Chief, David Campbell, was the guest speaker at the Chamber of Commerce's weekly luncheon on Mar. 9.

    Deputy Chief David Campbell has been with JPD for 28 years and Deputy Chief for 6 years.

    The biggest priority for JPD right now is staffing.

    "What we're dealing with is a staffing crisis. We are currently down 11 officers. I think that comes to somewhere in the low 20s, maybe a 21% officer vacancy factor. One of our officers is part of the academy. So that officer is not carrying part of the workload from the other officers. We have a couple of officers that are on injury status that can't go out and work the field as well. Then just in projecting forward, we know that we have two people that have already told us that they have intentions to retire. So that would drop that number from 11 up to 13," he said. "We are not going to lower our standards. If someone asked me what is the most important thing that the chief does, I would say hiring the right people."

    The last time JPD was fully staffed was either in 2008 or 2009, according to Campbell.

    He added this is a nationwide issue.

    JPD is included in the City's approach to attracting and retaining more workers.

    "The steps that we're taking to get more people in the door that I'm excited about is the signing bonuses. It's going to be a tiered structure, slightly higher if you're lateral and slightly less if you're new. The way it's recommended now is slightly more than what the troopers or Fairbanks are offering. Anchorage is not offering signing bonuses at this point in time," Campbell said. "We also have a retention bonus that I don't think is talked about enough, when officers hit four-year increments; four, eight, twelve, and sixteen, they qualify for a $10,000 bonus."

    Another step JPD is taking is branding its police station apart from all the others. They are doing this by hiring a dedicated recruitment and advertising agency.

    "We started this conversation with the city a couple of years ago, as the hiring process became more and more difficult, so we have the authorization to do this. Early this year we put out a request for proposal. We went through the process last week, we picked a vendor. We are sending the contract for this firm, to the City Attorney's office because we have a firm that's been identified. We're in the contract negotiations portion of that," he said. "By Jun. 30, they will have come to Juneau and met with our staff, come up with an entire campaign for us that will effectively be two years' worth of material. On Jul. 1, we're supposed to go live with this."

    The idea to brand JPD's uniqueness came after Deputy Chief (Campbell) and Police Chief Ed Mercer went to classes on recruitment and officer wellness.

    Campbell also gave insight into what he believes Juneau has to offer to potential officers.

    "What's special in my opinion about JPD is we have a tremendously supportive community. We also have a lot of options for an officer. We have promotions, we have laterals, we have specialty assignments," he said. "There's so many things you can do as an officer, but you can still live in a relatively safe community with support and all the benefits that Alaska has to offer. A ski resort! I don't think that we've been doing a good enough job in getting out what Juneau has to offer to potential applicants."

    JPD graduated two cadets last month, and Campbell said the Cadet Program is a great way to ensure they'll come back as officers 5 to 10 years down the road. The minimum age to be a police officer is 21, and cadets are between the ages of 16 and 20. Officers that graduated from the Cadet Program in 1990 are still with JPD today.

    Learn more about JPD's Cadet Program here.

    Campbell said that local people are more likely to stay with JPD than officers coming up from down south, and the Cadet Program ensures they can "grow their own".

    He didn't always have the plan to become a police officer himself. He shared that encouragement from his wife influenced him to consider it a possibility for his career when he was in his mid-20s.

    "If good people don't become officers, what are we left with?" his wife asked while Campbell was considering becoming a police officer.

    Campbell put out a call to action for citizens to help recruit. He said that if someone you know has the right qualities, tell them to apply to JPD. He mentioned a Juneau man who was a bus driver became a JPD detective in his 40s and was very successful.

    Once they get through the hiring process, it takes about a year for an officer to be at a stand-alone point on the field.

    Campbell added that there is a 90% drop rate throughout the training process.

    The biggest cut-out of applicants is non-locals who change their minds halfway through about living and working in Alaska. For the local pool, Campbell said that the cut-out mostly comes from applicants who don't quite meet the psychological requirements to be an officer.

    "But the most important thing is we get those applicants in the door," he said.

    Following officer recruitment, the second priority for JPD is officer wellness, established in 2021.

    Officers who investigate child abuse cases often have to view graphic pornography and violence. The counseling service is greatly beneficial for them to process the cases.

    Although, Campbell noted that all employees, not just officers, can receive mental health counseling services through a recent grant.

    Campbell stated that JPD is working to destigmatize mental illness, not just with their staff, but throughout the community.

    He said he is looking forward to what benefits Crisis Now, a Bartlett Regional behavioral health facility will offer the community of Juneau. Crisis Now is still under construction.

    Once Crisis Now is open, someone would report a mental health crisis to JPD's Dispatch, which will then coordinate with Crisis Now to help the person.

    Campbell also shared at the luncheon that K9 Buddy, a Belgian Malinois who has had a successful career with JPD, is close to retiring. Buddy started his career with JPD in 2015.

    They will have a labrador retriever, K9 Dax, taking over Buddy's role. K9 Buddy will be adopted by his assigned officer's family.

    K9 Buddy has assisted with many drug cases, alerting police to heroin, fentanyl, and methamphetamine.

    "During the time that we've had Buddy, he has interdicted about $15 million worth of controlled substances that were supposed to be hitting our streets. Interdiction is key. If we can stop the drugs before it gets to our streets, the better," Campbell said.

    Campbell shared that the most common drug dogs are German Shepherds, Belgian Malinoises, and labrador retrievers, but other dogs can be trained to detect drugs as well.

    Below: K9 Buddy, photo courtesy of JPD.

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