The Juneau Police Department is kicking off three separate initiatives to provide more effective community engagement and responsive policing in the next month.
“February is a big month for the JPD,” Juneau Police Chief Ed Mercer said in an interview Wednesday. “This is our way of being in line with our mission statement and building partnerships.”
The JPD will be hosting a Citizen’s Academy, rolling out community crime mapping software, and retooling the way it takes crime reports to better utilize officers’ time in the field, Mercer said.
The Citizen’s Academy is an eight-week course for members of the public to come and learn more about what the JPD does and how it operates, Mercer said. The JPD hasn’t held a CA since 2008. The one-day-a-week course will talk about things like obstacles to policing, rules the JPD has to follow, how arrest laws and search and seizures work, and the organization and specialty units of the JPD, Mercer said.
“This is our way of being in line with our mission statement and building partnerships,” Mercer said. “After eight weeks, we’ll hold a mini-graduation for those individuals who go through the academy.”
The objective is to better inform the public about how JPD goes about its job, which benefits the community, Mercer said.
“The academy is just a snapshot of what the police department does,” Mercer said. “I think the public has a false sense of what we do and what we can do.”
Anyone is welcome to apply to take part to the classes, which will happen once a week on Thursdays from 6-9 p.m. from March 5 to April 23. Applications will be evaluated by the JPD and those accepted will be informed.
Community Crime Mapping
The JPD is rolling out a tool it’s previously used internally for use by the public with slightly limited functionality. It will allow Juneau residents to see what kind of crimes are happening overlaid on a map of the city. The tool, part of a software suite called LexisNexis, has been used internally by investigators with the JPD for several months, but its scheduled rollout at the end of the month will give the public access to most of its functionality, said Erann Kalwara, public safety manager at the JPD.
“It looks magical now but it’s really six months of hard work,” Kalwara said. “It’s not going to be perfect. It’s most of our data, but there are some things we’re not releasing to the public.”
The JPD will not be releasing information related to more sensitive crimes or ongoing investigations, but many things, such as property crimes, traffic offenses, and crimes against persons such as robberies will go up on the map, allowing Juneau citizens to better protect themselves — or to allow them to keep a closer eye on their neighborhood.
“Police can’t be everywhere. There are a lot of things you can do to protect yourself from being victimized,” Mercer said. “This will ultimately combat crime happening in their neighborhood and in their community.”
The Anchorage PD and state Department of Public Safety also use the program, Mercer said, which allows them to exchange information with other departments.
“If the troopers have activity in Juneau, it’ll pop up in here,” Kalwara said. “We’ve used it to resolve a missing person case already.”
While the JPD has had online reporting for more than a decade, a yearlong process has determined some changes that can be made to streamline officer deployments and help them use their time better.
“We established that (online reporting) as a means for a citizen to report certain types of crimes,” Mercer said. “We needed to go back and evaluate if our deployment was most efficient in that manner.”
Previously, several types of crimes could be reported online or over the phone to dispatchers. At the end of the month, that list will be expanded, and dispatchers will direct residents seeking to report them to make that report online.
“We made a decision to increase different types of crimes including felonies that an individual could go online and report the crime,” Mercer said. “We are now making it mandatory that members of the public go online to report these types of crimes.”
Crimes with mandatory online reporting include information only, theft of property including shoplifting, vandalism to property, harassment including nuisance phone calls, fraud with loss of no more than $5,000, lost and found property, motor vehicle crashes without injuries and no more than $5,000 total vehicle damage, vehicle rifling.
For any serious crimes, especially those involving harm or potential harm to a person, as well as major crashes, or any crime where the suspect is still on the premises, residents should still call 911 immediately, Kalwara said.
The idea in making many of these requirements for mandatory online reporting is to free up dispatchers and officers to focus on geographical policing and to handling serious crimes involving harm to people first, and to utilize the JPD’s civilian investigators to handle crimes that involve more datamining and investigating, resulting in a safer Juneau.
“It’s about deciding how best to balance the public’s needs and what we can do,” Kalwara said.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.