Staffing has been a concern for the Juneau Police Department for years. But Police Chief Ed Mercer said Thursday staff levels are improving during a presentation before the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.
Last year, the department had 13 vacancies among its 57 officer positions.
The number of vacancies is now down to six. Two new officers were recently sworn in, and two civilian staff members recently moved into a newly-created role to help with the workload.
Mercer said the new civilian investigators started in January.
“The primary reason for the civilian investigators is to take away work from our patrol officers out in the field and also help with our detective unit on any sort of different types of cases,” Mercer said Thursday.
He said they moved over from the department’s community service officer program and are already helping with some of the research and administrative tasks that are crucial to police work.
Mercer said the department will continue to evaluate the position as it evolves.
“We certainly don’t want to inundate them with too much work initially, so they’re going through a training process, and ultimately I’m pretty positive and excited about having this opportunity there,” he said.
Mercer said the department’s criminal investigations unit is now fully staffed.
JPD is not the only agency in Alaska struggling with recruitment and retention. But back in January, the union that represents Juneau police officers said the department has lost 17 officers to other agencies since 2010.
Although crime rates fell in Juneau overall in 2018 from the previous year, they remain high compared to several years ago.
Vehicle theft and burglary, in particular, have spiked over the past five years.
A quarter of the department’s dispatcher positions also remain vacant. Those staff members answer 911 calls and coordinate with partner agencies like the Alaska State Troopers and the Coast Guard.