Questions Posted to "Ask a Dispatcher"
Q. After reading the panhandling Q&A I was very surprised to see that what goes on down on Wiloughby on a daily basis is actually legal. These people approach me on a daily basis, sometimes coming around the back of my car while I'm getting items out for work. How am I supposed to distinguish the difference between that and a mugger? So my question is, since we can't get rid of the inebriates for panhandling, how about loitering? How about public intoxication? This is getting to be a huge public menace and is anything being done about it?
Dear Juneau Resident,
This issue doesn't have an easy answer. Drunk in public ordinances face legal challenges and many states and cities, like Juneau, don't have them. Law enforcement nationwide is in the process of trying to find a balance between those who don't want to feel harassed or intimidated by those who live in public areas and the rights of all citizens to use their freedom of speech for everything from "Will you sign my petition?" to "Do you have any change to spare?"
JPD administrators continue to talk to police departments in other cities to see what is working for them. So far, there isn't a 'poster' city that has the perfect procedure or ordinance to address your concerns.
As far as you being a target for a homesless person committing a crime, it is rare in Juneau for an intoxicated street person to grab property from someone just going about their business. Officers are very familiar with those who live on the downtown streets and with a description can find someone pretty quickly. That creates a deterrent that may not exist in a much larger city. In JPD's experience street people usually victimize each other with thefts and assaults.
When someone is too intoxicated to care for themselve they can be taken into protective custody by JPD. That person is lodged at Rainforest Recovery Center or at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center. That process is expensive for taxpayers and lasts twelve hours at the most. That process also doesn't address the underlying substance abuse and/or mental health issue. Anchorage is trying some new programs, like trying to provide housing where people don't have to stop drinking. That program has not been well received by that community.
JPD is continuing to watch for any signs of success elsewhere and we welcome comments from citizens that have run across programs or procedures that might help our community.