After calls for transparency, Juneau police release their policies and procedures manual

Juneau Police Officers search Wednesday afternoon a property in the 300-block of Village St., downtown Juneau after serving a search warrant on the property. Items from recent burglaries were recovered, including stolen property from The Observatory bookstore, Police Lt. David Campbell said. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KTOO)
Juneau police officers search a property in downtown Juneau after serving a search warrant on the property. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KTOO)

Juneau’s police department posted its policies and procedures manual online on Monday. 

As protests and community conversations about policing started in May, Lt. Krag Campbell said people started asking for the department’s full manual, but it took a little while for them to decide to make it public. 

“You know when you don’t have something like this posted online and people are asking for it, I think your natural reaction can be to be guarded — if we haven’t posted it before,” he said. “Then we asked, ‘Well, why don’t we? What is the harm of posting some of these things?'”

Ultimately, they decided that being open with the community could help build trust.

“We want to show people that we’re trying to be transparent. We’re not trying to hide anything. We’re just trying to do the best job we can and serve the community,” he said. “If by posting them that helps people to understand that, then I think that’s a win for us.”

It’s not the full manual. Some of it has been redacted, including sections on search and seizures, responding to suicide bombers and how they’ll handle civil disturbances. 

Campbell said police staff combed through it for a few weeks, pulling out sections that they’re either required by state law to keep private or that could make it dangerous for officers to do their jobs. 

“Our procedures are kind of like ‘Hey, how do you do this? How do you respond to a bank alarm? How should officers respond to an active shooter?’ Those very specific things,” he said. 

The concern, he said, is that if people wanted to commit crimes, there’s very specific information in that manual that could put officers at a tactical disadvantage. 

“You know they could get that information and go ‘Oh, when I activate an alarm this is how the police are generally going to respond, so I could ambush them and do these things,’ so it’s not safe to put it out there,” Campbell said.

Juneau Assembly Member Rob Edwardson has pushed Juneau police to release policy documents, like the one that explains how officers use force. 

City police did that in mid-June. 

“I’m glad they put it out, I’m glad it’s as readable as it was and I’m glad it was a working document,” he said. 

Edwardson said he’s looking forward to reading the full policies and procedures manual now. He’s not looking for anything specific. 

“I’m just looking to see if anything stands out, you know with respect to what people want to see and transparent regulations and uses of force, that sort of thing,” he said.  

Edwardson said he’s heard from some community members who are concerned about how and when officers decide to use deadly force, including a fatal shooting last year.

“But the carotid hold also is something I was taking a look at,” Edwardson said. 

That hold was used by a Minneapolis police officer on George Floyd, whose death sparked a nationwide uproar. Police across Southeast Alaska have a variety of views on how and when to use it.

Juneau police are instructed to only use it in an effort to avoid having to use deadly force. 

“I’m not sure what I feel about it,” Edwardson said. “But I did do law enforcement in the Coast Guard and I’ve had to use force myself on occasion and it isn’t necessarily as … straightforward as people think it might be.”

Both Edwardson and Campbell said the manual is a guiding document, and that officers have to refer to it often. 

While it is proscriptive, Edwardson said “no manual can tell you how to do everything. I think how you interact with the manuals themselves is you have recurrent training.”

And, Campbell said he hopes community members understand that officers don’t have the whole thing memorized.

“Sometimes people will … expect you to know every line in detail in a manual and it’s just really not even possible that someone could do that,” he said. “The majority of people in the world aren’t going to remember it to that degree.” 

The platform Juneau Police are using to release the policy manual to the public is also what they use to make the policy available to officers digitally. Officers carry the manual around in an app on their phones, and on their laptops. 

Campbell said it will cost about $2,000 a year to provide it to the general public.