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Alaska Editorial: Arming VPSOs - state must study the idea and solicit input

Posted: April 25, 2013 - 12:07am

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

Lawmakers and the administration are right to consider whether village public safety officers should be armed.

A bill that would allow VPSOs to carry weapons, introduced by Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, remained in committee when the Legislature adjourned earlier this week. When the Legislature returns in January, the idea will be ripe for debate.

That’s because the state administration plans to look at the pros and cons in the interim. Public Safety Commissioner Joe Masters said he personally favors the idea but acknowledges that it needs a broader discussion.

That’s the right approach.

Masters raised several good questions about the proposal. He noted that the state would have to revise its training and certification policies. It also would have to look at the insurance required for such a change. That could be expensive.

Most important, Masters wants to talk to the nonprofit Native corporations that actually employ the officers. The state provides the funding, but the VPSO program is largely operated by these regional nonprofits. Tanana Chiefs Conference serves the Interior, for example. Does the TCC board and administration want to take on this responsibility?

The subject has been debated for decades but came to a head this year after the death of Thomas Madole, a VPSO who served the village of Manokotak, located west of Dillingham. Madole was shot after calling troopers to tell them he planned to go talk to a man in the village. That man, Leroy Dick, has been charged with murder.

Edgmon, the Dillingham legislator, said he doesn’t think it’s good policy for VPSOs to be unarmed in the regular course of their jobs. He has a point. However, arming such officers would be a major change in state policy, and it needs some study and greater discussion within rural communities. Fortunately, it appears that will occur during the next few months.

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