The largest class of Village Public Safety Officers in recent history graduated from the Public Safety Academy in Sitka on Friday in a ceremony at the Sheet’Ka Kwaan Na’Kaa Hidi Building.
Twenty VPSOs strengthened the ranks to 79 strong in villages throughout Alaska.
The VPSO program is high on the list of Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration’s efforts to stop domestic violence in rural areas as well as increase a presence of safety for all Alaskans.
“We are proud of these Alaskans who have answered the call of public service,” Parnell said. “They join the ranks of those who are heroes not because of a single act, but by a lifetime of daily acts. Village Public Safety Officers are those kinds of heroes.”
Parnell’s public safety initiative, “Safe Homes, Strong Families,” contains 86 funded VPSO positions with plans to increase that number to 101 by July. The initiative aims to boost the number of VPSO positions by 15 each year for the next 10 years.
The VPSO program began in the early 1980s as a way of providing rural Alaskan communities with needed public safety support services.
VPSOs are trained and employed individuals who reside in villages as first responders to public safety emergencies such as search and rescue, fire protection, emergency medical assistance and law enforcement support.
VPSO officers receive 10 weeks of extensive training at the academy in a curriculum that spans 37 separate subjects and includes 488 hours of intensive classroom instruction and testing before a student graduates.
The 20 graduating VPSOs on Friday are as follows, with their employing Native nonprofit corporation and assigned village:
Amil Burns – Northwest Arctic Borough – Noatak; Jim Cedeno – Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) – Old Harbor; Barret Eningowuk – Kawerak Inc. – Shishmaref; John Grady – Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) – McGrath; Jerome Kelly – Association of Village Council Presidents (AOVCP) – Quinhagak; Fred Lamont Jr. – AOVCP – St. Mary’s; James Lolley Jr. – Chugachmiut – Chenega Bay; Rachel Nelson – AOVCP – Kwigillingok; Reuben Norman – Chugachmiut – Port Graham; Joseph Okitkun – AOVCP – Kotlik; Jen-Raye Pavageau – Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association – Akutan; Robert Pitka – AOVCP – Aniak; Philip Plessinger – TCC – Ruby; Jonathan Russell – AOVCP – Aniak; John Samuel – AOVCP – Platinum; Jonathan Shivel – Kawarak Inc. – Savoonga; Speridon Simeonoff Jr. – Kodiak Area Native Association – Akhiok; Donald Tritt – TCC – Chalkyitsik; Jason Turk – NAB – Kiana; John Uttereyuk – AOVCP – Scammon Bay.
Southeast Alaska currently has six VPSOs: Angoon’s Cpl. Charles Hartzell, Hydaburg’s Deon Jones, Pelican’s Glen Bixler, Thorn Bay’s Sgt. Clinton O’Malley, and Kake’s Scott Jackson and Aaron Loges.
“The quality of applicants are getting better,” VPSO coordinator for Tlingit Haida Central Council Jason Wilson said. “By the end of March we will have 10 VPSOs in Southeast Alaska.”
Wilson is currently completing an interview and hiring process that will add an officer in Angoon, Hydaburg, Thorn Bay, and Saxman.
Wilson stated there are only two state troopers to cover communities from Haines to Ketchikan.
“That is a lot of communities,” Wilson said. “VPSOs become extension of a state trooper. Not just law enforcement but they help to organize fire departments, become search and rescue leaders, operate harbor master duties, and EMT work. Anything that happens in a community that needs attention they are the ones to do it.”
VPSOs are not armed but do carry stun guns, mace and batons and often must operate on their own in harsh conditions and dangerous situations.
• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.