Juneau’s police chief was honored with an award for public service at the 2021 Alaska Federation of Natives convention.
Ed Mercer is Lingít of the Raven Coho clan, and he’s the city’s first Alaska Native police chief. He’s been with the Juneau Police Department for more than 20 years and has been the chief since 2017.
KTOO’s Lyndsey Brollini talked with Mercer about his career and some of the changes that have happened in policing during his tenure.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Lyndsey Brollini: So why, why did you get into public service and law enforcement?
Ed Mercer: I’m not, I’m not able to say that, you know, as a young child I dreamed of being a police officer. This is something I think I grew into. And it was a calling and certainly, it worked out great in my career and it’s been enjoyable and rewarding.
Lyndsey Brollini: Why is it important to have Native police officers?
Ed Mercer: There’s not a lot of minorities in law enforcement. That’s just a fact. Why I think it’s so important, especially in our community is that people who see people in police officers, minority groups, they can relate. And you know, one thing I have never lost is my understanding of my culture and where I came from, and who I am, and how I relate with many of the Alaskan Natives across our region and across our state.
Lyndsey Brollini: Another thing I wanted to get into was how policing changed in your tenure in law enforcement. I think there’s been a lot of change, especially in the past couple of years.
Ed Mercer: I would say one of the biggest things that I seen the change of, it started when I was actually a field officer, is recording our contacts out in the public. But since then, now we have police officers out there that are wearing body-worn cameras. I don’t, I can’t think of too many other professions or fields where somebody has to wear a camera all the time. But we recognize the importance of that for transparency and trust in what we’re doing out there in serving the public and our contacts, how we’re treating people.
One change, I think, is this more awareness with dealing with people who have addiction and mental health issues. Is there a better way? Back when I worked on the street, we didn’t have as many options and referrals. I think if you committed a crime, an individual who was addicted to drugs, or was suffering from mental illness, and they committed a crime, they’d go to jail. Now, I think we’re trying to find avenues that are better, that will better serve that individual so they don’t continue to go down the road, they’re going down and give them the help they needed.
Lyndsey Brollini: I just remember going to the vigil for George Floyd here. I saw police officers there attending it. And so I guess did that movement impact JPD at all, that nationwide movement after George Floyd’s murder?
Ed Mercer: I thought it was very important for the Juneau Police Department to attend these events. To go for what you talk about for support and saying that we as a police department, and how we police and how we treat our citizens, we don’t condone excessive use of force. And it speaks volumes when you’re standing up there with the people that are trying to say they don’t condone this type of behavior from their police across the country. You know, being able to stand there with other members of the community and show support is important, so that they feel confident and comfortable within their police department that this can’t and will not happen in our community. So that was a pretty significant event.
Lyndsey Brollini: You know, what’s something that you’re proud of that you’ve done in your career?
Ed Mercer: One of the things I’m most proud of is that we became accredited again. At one point we were accredited by the Alaska Association chief of police. And that went away back in like 2012 right around that time, and we were the only police agency accredited in the state of Alaska. And because of the lack of interest for accreditation in our state, the decision was made that they’re no longer going to do it. So what we were able to do through Alaska Association Chief of Police was to be endorsed by a partner state, and that was in Oregon, and it’s called the Oregon accreditation alliance that agreed to allow Alaska police agencies to join their accreditation program. And we did, we signed up for it. And it took a lot of work from my staff. And we were ultimately received our accreditation in September of last year. And, you know, I think that’s good for the police department, it’s good for the community, knowing that we have an accredited police agency that serves them. So that has been really rewarding.
And just to be, as chief, you know, you’re only as good as the staff that you have and the people that go out there every day. People see our police officers out there every single day, doing their job, and you have to have great personnel to go out there and serve the community day in and day out, and do a good job. The expectation is to do a good job and serve the community. And I’m proud of this agency and the personnel that work here at the police department that show up. And we have a mission to go out there and make our community, help make our community safer.
Lyndsey Brollini: Thanks so much for meeting with me and for talking about, you know, career, changes that have happened.
Ed Mercer: Thank you for reaching out.