New JPD chief tweaks department organization

Juneau Police Department Chief Brice Johnson (left) has been on the job about six weeks. Operations Captain Ed Mercer (right) will become Deputy Chief.

The position of Assistant Police Chief no longer exists in the Juneau Police Department.

It’s part of reorganization under new Chief Bryce Johnson, who’s been on the job since June 3rd.

Johnson held an informal meeting with members of the Juneau news media Tuesday to describe what he said will be a more open police department.

Assistant Chief Page Decker retired in May and his job has not been filled.

Johnson said a captain position will also go away.  He calls it a flatter chain of command, with fewer administrative levels and managers.

“We’ll have the same number of people doing jobs, but there’ll be a shorter step between officer and the chief.  Hopefully (it will) facilitate a little bit better communication, making us more responsive to what’s going on and taking care of the needs of our employees,” he said.

It’s really semantics.  Johnson said the assistant chief will now be a deputy chief, and still second in command.

“The way the command structure used to work is the entire department filtered to one assistant chief and then to the chief.  Instead of that, most of the department – the patrol function, the investigative function and communications — will report to a deputy chief, who will be Deputy Chief Mercer.  Then there will be other people like the administrative manager and one lieutenant who will still report to me, so I’m going to take on a few more duties,” he said.

The deputy chief position will be filled by  Ed Mercer, who is now Operations Captain.  Johnson said the new command structure will be in place by August 1st.

While shrinking administration will not save money, Johnson said it’s a step toward community-oriented policing.  That philosophy is based on the premise that the causes of crime are not within the control of the police department.

“It’s nothing we can control that causes people to commit crimes; it has to do with other things,” he said. “So we can go round everybody up and throw them all in jail and it still will not get at the root of what’s causing the crime.  The more we can partner with other governmental agencies, non-profit groups,  more citizen groups, the more we can partner out there with people the better job we can do at reducing crime.”

The 43-year-old Johnson was Assistant Bureau Commander in the Salt Lake City Police Department before he accepted the job to replace now-retired Chief Greg Browning.

Johnson said he’s spent his first month learning about the capital city, JPD and ways to make the small department more efficient.

He said one of the biggest challenges is recruiting and filling the seven officer positions currently open.