PUBLISHED: 9:04 PM on Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Spotlight: Rayme L. Vinson
Rayme L. Vinson was born in Missoula, Montana, to a family where his father and grandfather besides being railroad workers also had careers in law enforcement - his grandfather as a reserve deputy sheriff and his father a city constable and a city policeman. His brother-in-law is with the RCMP, and his older brother a highway patrol man with the Washington State Troopers. And a nephew is a police officer with the Juneau Police Department. On February 1, when Vinson retired from JPD, he had spent 33 years as a law enforcement officer, 26 of them in Alaska, and the last eleven in Juneau.

CCW: How did you get started as a law enforcement officer?

RV: I got out of high school, went directly into the service to be a Military Policeman; I went into the Marine Corps. I was on presidential security for Nixon; I was stationed in Southern California from '72 to '74. He used to go to San Clemente, so Air Force One used to land at our base, and then we'd helicopter him out to the island. We'd get to sit around the plane, or guard the dogs... It's a really impressive-sounding title, but it was miserable. You'd watch the dogs, or luggage - anything that they would be touching was off limit to anybody else. And then I did regular Military Police duties when he wasn't in.

CCW: How did you end up in Alaska?

RV: Well, I went back to Montana; worked as a deputy sheriff; met my wife who was a deputy sheriff at that time... We got married and I went to another county for more money... I was a K9 officer, had a drug dog and a search dog, searching for lost people... I got into a shooting in May of '77. When I first got out of the service, I was assigned six days of the week, and I made $686 a month gross. Before taxes.

So anyway - the second one, I had gone up like a whole hundred bucks or so a month; that's why I changed counties, because it was so much more money. Anyway, after that, I decided they weren't paying me enough to get shot at. I had a friend who moved from Montana to Valdez; he was a commercial fisherman. I asked if I could use his address so I could apply to the state troopers, and he sent me an article out of the Valdez paper saying they were hiring police men. They had me fill out an application; they said 'come on up for an interview' so I flew up there. They offered me the job and I was going to fly back down and get my wife, but I got weathered in. This is right at the end of construction [of the pipeline] in '77, and Valdez was a very expensive place. I ended up going to work and living at the fire hall until I finally got enough money to have my wife come up. We stayed in Valdez from '77 to '92, when I went up to the North Slope.

CCW: What were you doing up there?

RV: In Valdez, we became a combined department with fire and police and everything. I had worked my way up to where I was the chief. Then we had a change of city managers, and I was no longer the chief. Then I went up to the North Slope and worked in Barrow and Point Hope as a policeman.

CCW: Why did you end up in Juneau?

RV: In '94, I had one in high school, one in middle school, one in grade school, and it seemed to be much nicer to be down here, so I applied down here and ended up getting the job in May of '94.

CCW: How have you seen crime in Alaska change over time?

RV: I wouldn't say crime has really changed. When I first came up here in '77, of course, where I was, was the pipeline. There was a lot of money so there was a lot of alcohol, a lot of drugs. It's the same now as then - almost everything is either drug- or alcohol related. Either people are high at the time they do it, or they do it to get money to buy drugs or alcohol.

CCW: You say your job is fun - what's the fun part?

RV: Lots of fun parts! The excitement of getting to go out and chase after cars, or a couple of years ago another policeman and I had some kids vandalize a light along the side of the driveway of an old couple. It was snowing, so we spent about the next hour and a half tracking these tracks, and we finally ended up catching them. So we were able to go back to these people and say 'we caught who it was; what's the value of this so you can get reimbursed?'... So things like that, when you actually do get to help somebody out. Another time, we had a guy who was really intoxicated downtown, and it was really cold. We got him in the car and got him out to the Juneau Recovery Hospital, and he apparently decided to get some treatment - so I got a thank-you from his mother saying how nice it was of us to treat him so well, and how she appreciated that. That was kind of nice, when you're able to help somebody like that. We lose one every year, so...

CCW: It's an unforgiving climate to be homeless in up here...

RV: Well, you know, we had them in Barrow. You've got to be tough to be a homeless person up there. You'd have people pass out and wet themselves and freeze to the ground... You'd have to break them loose, get them to the hospital -- and half an hour later, they'd be warm and fighting with them at the hospital...

CCW: You guys get a lot of stuff thrown at you - how do you keep your good attitude?

RV: Yes, there's some, but not as much as you might think. Most people in Alaska like police, and as long as you treat them well, they treat you fairly well. Some people lash out and say things, and a lot of time, if they don't get a response, it kind of ends there. Most of the time, they're having their own problems so they're miserable and so they want you miserable too. If they want to rattle off at the mouth and there's nothing criminal going on, they're certainly welcome to do that - 'goodbye, have a nice day' you're out of there. A lot of times, if you just treat them well and figure out what is the underlying problem, you can cure why somebody is so irate.

CCW: Your job isn't only law enforcement, it's also about prevention...

RV: A lot of the job is prevention, and unfortunately there's no way to gage that. If you just talk to people - like for example the downtown area; if you go through and check with the bartenders, the workers at the Glory Hole, the shop owners, they know what's going on. 'There's this guy who's been acting really strange; I think he might be off his medication' or 'So and so is looking for their boyfriend, he threatenend to beat her up' so then you can go looking for these folks and prevent problems from happening.

CCW: Do you have enough time to do that kind of prevention?

RV: Time is one of those things you never have enough of. No, you don't have enough time. When I first started out, you'd have - for example, when you have two guys fight - we used to put that in a one-page report: Location, names, time, what happened, what you did. Now, that same report is ten pages. And we don't get any more prosecutions than we used to. In fact, they probably used to be better with that, because there wasn't so much stuff to read. The DA's office; they might have increased it with a person or two now, but a few years ago, they had the same number of people they had in 1974. But now they have these big reams of paperwork to go through... Officers are in spending vast amounts of time putting things on the computer instead of being out preventing things.

CCW: And when you've chosen this career, you're probably not crazy about the idea of doing paperwork at a desk?

RV: Well, I can tell you one thing: If I had known how much time I would spend doing paperwork, I would have spent a lot more time paying attention to my English teacher and my spelling teacher!

CCW: So 33 years total... what are you going to do now?

RV: Well, I was hoping to have a couple of months off, but I may have a few job offer. They're having problems with shoplifters downtown, so I'm going to work for Alaskan & Proud. Twice on Monday they had shoplifters try to run down employees with a car. Shoplifting in general is bad downtown, but now they're having more problems with violence toward their employees...

CCW: So Juneau is home now?

RV: Yeah... I've been down below; I don't like it very much. And we moved down here for the good weather. People down here think it's bad, but you need to go up to Barrow for a while. Or Valdez -- they get 38 feet of snow average snowfall. So this is the south! We're all in the South for the good weather! We've been looking at other things, and Anchorage is nice but I wouldn't want to deal with the traffic up there.

CCW: I can imagine you must have made a lot of friends here?

RV: Most of the people I've met here, I've met through work - business owners, and the people at the ER. I had a lot of them come to my retirement ceremony and at the gathering downtown afterwards.

CCW: That must feel nice, given that you guys are kind of like the garbage men; people don't realize what you do til you go on strike?

RV: Well, there is some of that, because so many people who live in Juneau don't see the fighting that goes on; you don't realize that the police blotter in the paper doesn't cover everything that happens. Really big things like major assaults, child molestation, that doesn't come out til somebody gets charged. If you go to church every Sunday, go to work, unless you and your friends are running a meth lab, you don't realize all that's going on in town.

CCW: Is it depressing to see the same people over and over again?

RV: I think being a substance abuse counselor would be depressing... the only thing I find really hard to put up with is the people who have done something wrong, something serious, and for some reason can't be prosecuted. They know they got away with it, you know they got away with it...

You have to look at it as a basketball game: There are rules. It's faster to carry the ball than to dribble it, but if you don't dribble it, the basket doesn't count. So when the guy with the striped shirt -- the judge -- says that it doesn't count, then you, if it's serious enough you can put up a protest, but as soon as that's done, you've got to go back and either defend your basket or try to make a shot. It's over with. There's nothing you can do about it once they've made their decision. If you try to make up for something in the past, you can lose a good case. You have to just drop it and say, "oh well."

CCW: So what do you do outside of working?

RV: I like to think that I fish and hunt.... but I don't really have much to show for it. I've drowned an awful lot of herring. But that's what I like to do. Biking, hiking. There are always house projects. My wife started looking at flooring the week before I retired...