Duain White was going to school in Anchorage a few years ago when he saw a police officer drive down the street.
White turned to his wife, Amber, and said being a police officer might be an interesting profession.
“Well, why don’t you do it?” Amber asked.
That’s just what he did. This Thursday at the Juneau Police Department, Amber pinned a badge on Duain’s chest just after Duain, 32, was sworn in alongside fellow new officer Jonah Hennings-Booth. In an interview after the ceremony, Amber said it was thrilling that their plans came to fruition.
“It’s just very satisfying and I’m very proud of him for doing it,” Amber said. “Not everyone is able to accomplish their dreams and he did it.”
It will still be a while until the two new officers can do the full duties of JPD officers. On Sunday, they leave for the Public Safety Academy in Sitka for a 15-week training program. If they graduate from the academy, they’ll then do JPD’s field training program, which JPD Deputy Chief David Campbell said takes at least 14 weeks. In all, it will take about nine months from their swearing-in for them to become full-time JPD officers who can take care of calls on their own, Campbell said.
Still, White and Hennings-Booth come at a good time for the department, Chief Ed Mercer said during Thursday’s ceremony. A year ago, there were 12 vacant officer positions at JPD. Now, with these two new officers, there are only six vacancies, Mercer said.
Both of the new officers are Alaska Native, which Mercer (who is also Alaska Native) said is good for the diversity of the department. Hennings-Booth, 23, is Inupiaq while White is Tlingit.
White agreed with Mercer that having more Alaska Native representation in the department is good for the community.
“I think it’s very important for people to see us in uniform, someone people can relate to and feel more comfortable seeing someone from the same culture,” White said. “I can also be a positive role model for other Native kids and see that lifestyle is possible as long as you focus and push yourself and be a positive person.”
Hennings-Booth, 23, has worked for the Alaska Wildlife Troopers as a public safety technician. Born in Anchorage and raised in Eagle River and Nome, Hennings-Booth said it was important to him to stay in Alaska. He said he’s drawn to law enforcement because of the unpredictable nature of the job.
“Every day is new,” Hennings-Booth said. “When I was a public safety technician with the wildlife troopers, I never knew what my day was going to entail. I didn’t know if I was going to be doing an investigation on a bear that was poached, if I was going to be doing commercial fishing patrolling or if anyone was not inside the district and not abiding by the laws and regulations set by the state. It’s completely different on a day-to-day basis.”
Campbell said the department has put an emphasis on trying to recruit local lately. Over the past 10 years, he said, the department has lost 19 officers to jobs in the Lower 48. It costs about $130,000 to train an officer, Campbell said, so the department spent more than $2 million on those officers who then leave the state.
In hiring people such as Hennings-Booth and White (who’s originally from Hoonah), the department is getting employees who are firmly rooted in Alaska, Campbell said.
“By focusing local, we hope our retention will improve and we’ll be able to keep them longer,” Campbell said. “It’s a challenge to live here. With the weather and the darkness, so if you’ve already got a support network and a family network here, it just makes it that much easier.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.