Juneau Police Department Chief Ed Mercer is all smiles while being congratulated by District Attorney Angie Kemp after his swearing-in Monday. (Liz Kellar | Juneau Empire)

Juneau Police Department Chief Ed Mercer is all smiles while being congratulated by District Attorney Angie Kemp after his swearing-in Monday. (Liz Kellar | Juneau Empire)

New JPD chief sworn in

The Juneau Police Department swore in one of its own as the 37th police chief Monday afternoon, as former Deputy Chief Ed Mercer took on the top slot.

City Manager Rorie Watt formally introduced the new chief at the ceremony, which was held inside the police department, saying, “I’m excited for him, I’m excited for Juneau and I’m excited for the (police) department.”

“This is a big day for me,” Mercer said before thanking the community for supporting him, as well as his family. “I look forward to serving the community of Juneau.”

As of that morning, Mercer hadn’t even started moving in to the office vacated by outgoing Chief Bryce Johnson, who left for his new job in Idaho on Friday.

He has been at the Juneau Police Department since 2000, starting his career in his hometown, Sitka, in 1992 as a reserve officer.

“Being born and raised in Southeast, I was partial to this region,” Mercer said.

“From the onset, I was excited to serve my community,” he said. “I knew the community quite well — the challenge for a hometown person (is) policing people you grew up with. It was tricky; people have to (learn to) see you in that role, they have to adjust to you.”

But, said Mercer, being such an ingrained part of the community has its benefits as well.

“You deal with people at their worst time,” he explained. “It’s rewarding when, years down the line, (you see them and) they’re choosing to live a better life.”

Part of policing your community is respect on both sides, Mercer said.

“You have to be respectful and understanding and compassionate,” he said. “I have always tried to do that with people regardless of who they are, throughout my career.”

Applying to Juneau seemed like a good move for his career, Mercer said.

Mercer said he saw an opportunity to hone his skills and to move around within the rank and file, in Juneau, adding that Sitka was a much smaller agency without as much opportunity for mobility.

“I’ve always looked for opportunity,” he said. “If it’s right, I’ll put my name in the hat.”

In 2002, he transferred to the drug investigation unit, and stayed there for two years.

From there, Mercer rose rapidly through the ranks, promoting to sergeant in 2004 — where he said he “cut my teeth on learning to be a first-line supervisor” — to lieutenant in 2006, captain in 2011 and deputy chief in 2013.

Mercer isn’t sure if he is the first Alaska Native to be promoted to police chief in the state of Alaska — but he’s certainly among the first even so.

“I am proud of that,” he said. “The minority side of (the population) doesn’t typically get involved in law enforcement. … It gives Alaska Natives something to look at, that if you work hard, there’s always a possibility.”

Mercer said he doesn’t see a need to make any significant changes to the department, although, he added, he will be taking “a hard look at everything we do.”

“I’ve been able to work very closely with my predecessor,” he said, adding that he and Johnson worked together on a number of procedures and programs that are still in the initial stages of having been implemented.

“I know I’m walking into the position of chief with a really good understanding of the job,” Mercer said. “I know the challenges.”

Chief among those challenges, according to Mercer, is recruitment and retention.

“There is a constant revolving door on that,” he said ruefully. “I’ve been in management for 12 years and I’ve yet to see the agency fully staffed. It’s a continuing effort.”

Attrition comes partially from an aging department, said Mercer, noting that he needs to fill his own position as well as that of Lt. Kris Sell, who retires at the end of next month.

“We can’t change the geography of Juneau,” he said of the isolation that drives officers away. “It’s important to make this a very welcoming agency . … Being an officer is difficult and being very supportive is important — that’s one thing we can control.”


Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 523-2246 or liz.kellar@juneauempire.com.


Juneau Police Department Chief Ed Mercer has his badge pinned on him by his wife, Kelly, at his swearing-in Monday. (Liz Kellar | Juneau Empire)

Juneau Police Department Chief Ed Mercer has his badge pinned on him by his wife, Kelly, at his swearing-in Monday. (Liz Kellar | Juneau Empire)

Juneau Police Department Chief Ed Mercer is congratulated by City Manager Rorie Watt after his swearing-in Monday. (Liz Kellar | Juneau Empire)

Juneau Police Department Chief Ed Mercer is congratulated by City Manager Rorie Watt after his swearing-in Monday. (Liz Kellar | Juneau Empire)

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