Instead of handcuffs, Juneau police bring services to Bergmann Hotel

Brianna McCourt works the front desk at the Bergmann Hotel. Friday, Nov. 4. (Photo by Quinton Chandler/KTOO)

Brianna McCourt works the front desk at the Bergmann Hotel on Friday, Nov. 4. (Photo by Quinton Chandler/KTOO)

Brianna McCourt had a bad feeling when she walked outside the Bergmann Hotel and saw state troopers and police with their mobile command center at her doorstep.

“The mobile command center showed up and we’re like, ‘What’s really going on here,’” said McCourt, who works security at the Bergmann for a company called CPR Services that recently took over building management.

McCourt said when she got word the police were heading to the building, she thought the worst.

“It’s the Bergmann. I mean it’s been known for its riffraff and its drugs,” McCourt said.

Juneau police descended on the downtown housing development last Friday, but they didn’t come to make arrests. They wanted to help.

It’s not unusual for the police to be called to the hotel, but this time was different.

McCourt said the police weren’t alone.

“They came with the Department of Health and Social Services,” she said. “I believe that they had Front Street Clinic, and drug and alcohol treatment (officials to) speak with the residents that lived here.”

Residents got information on programs that could help them find work and opportunities to get counseling for substance abuse and mental health.

Service providers passed out sharps containers for safe disposal of used needles, and they gave her McCourts of Narcan – a medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

“Having sharp boxes in the bathroom and knowing that we have stuff to help people if we do run into an overdose is very helpful,” she said.

Boxes of Narcan given to employees of the Bergmann Hotel during a Juneau Police Department outreach effort.

Boxes of Narcan given to employees of the Bergmann Hotel during a Juneau Police Department outreach effort on Friday, Nov. 4. (Photo by Quinton Chandler/KTOO)

Lt. Kris Sell with Juneau Police Department said their outreach to the hotel was part of a strategy to, once a month, give special attention to issues they’re especially worried about in Juneau.

“Part of the chief’s instruction for me is once a month he wants to know, ‘OK, what can we go do that’s a focused approach to some area or some problem?’” Sell explained.

The department has gotten a lot of complaints from people in the Bergmann’s neighborhood, Sell said.

“People that lived up there and people that worked up there were unhappy with noise and finding needles in the area,” Sell said.

She said not all of these problems were tied directly to the hotel, but it was the place people most often associated their complaints with.

Lt. Kris Sell, Juneau Police Department

Lt. Kris Sell of the Juneau Police Department speaks on A Juneau Afternoon, April 1, 2016. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

So Sell said JPD had a choice. They could have focused on one option: finding lawbreakers and arresting them, but they didn’t want to.

“Really, modern policing is also about, ‘How do you apply positive pressure so that you can work with the people that are having challenges and get them on a more law-abiding path so they can get along with their neighbors?’” Sell explained.

She said most of the residents were suspicious at first.

When they offered one guy help, he hesitated but eventually said he wanted a job.

“He probably asked two or three times before we introduced him with the gentleman from the job service if we were tricking him or if this was some sort of trap,” Sell said.

Some people turned them down flat, but most were receptive after they got over their surprise.

Brianna McCourt said it goes a long way when people from the community show up and say, “We want to help you.”

“I do sympathize with what the police and the community did today, with the outreach program,” she said. “It kind of shows people that there is help out there if you ask for it. A lot of problems a lot of times with being a recovering addict is you’re afraid to ask for that help.”

McCourt knows what she’s talking about.

She is in recovery right now for the second time.

She was sober for eight years before she relapsed. She said her drug of choice was methamphetamine.

She didn’t decide to get clean until she had a near fatal car accident this summer.

“I didn’t want to ask for help. I didn’t want to admit that it was indeed a problem,” McCourt said.

She admitted that it can be hard to help other people, especially addicts because they need to want to help themselves first.

But she said people shouldn’t turn anyone away if they do make the decision to help themselves.

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