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VPSOs support possible firearms change

Posted: December 26, 2013 - 12:06am

FAIRBANKS — Most members of Alaska’s Village Public Safety Officer program in the interior support a proposal to allow them to carry firearms while on duty, according to a survey.

The 12 VPSOs who work in the interior wear Alaska State Trooper-style uniforms and are authorized to make arrests. But generally, they are not allowed to carry guns.

A proposed regulation change, however, would allow the officers to carry firearms and specify training for those who choose to carry them, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. The proposal is open for public comment through Jan. 17.

According to the fall survey, the proposed change is supported by eight of the 12 VPSOs in the interior. A survey of residents also showed most support the idea, according to Sgt. Jody Potts, who coordinates the interior’s VPSO program through the nonprofit Tanana Chiefs Conference. She plans to speak in support of the proposed change when she gives the TCC board an update on the program.

Existing rules say VPSOs can have guns in emergencies.

Potts said she supports arming VPSOs after working as one in the Copper River Basin for almost four years.

“VPSOs are in remote villages, responding to volatile situations with no backup. They need to be allowed to protect themselves,” she said in an email. “At the end of the day, I want to be able to go home to my children and know that heaven forbid, should I ever be faced with the deadly situation, I am able to protect myself.”

Potts said allowing VPSOs to carry guns would be good for recruitment.

The program averages a 30 percent turnover rate, according to trooper Capt. Stephen Arlow, who oversees the program.

A bill was introduced in the Alaska Legislature in April to change the firearms policy, but it failed to pass. The state Department of Public Safety in November began studying a policy change.

The department’s review does not require legislative action. Under the proposed change, $62,000 would be budgeted next year for VPSO firearms training.

North Pole Republican state Sen. John Coghill said he generally supports the idea of arming VPSOs, but said it should be a legislative process, not an administrative one. Coghill chairs the Senate’s judiciary committee.

“You have to have a little bit of a public debate beyond the regulation package,” he said, adding that his committee likely will take up the matter in the coming legislative session.

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