My Turn: VPSO programs provide basic public safety

Posted: Friday, April 26, 2002

I am the VPSO program manager for the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. I have held this position for almost seven years. Previously, I was the commander of "A" detachment of the Alaska State Troopers, which is Southeast Alaska, for five years. I retired from the Alaska State Troopers with 24 years of service. I have extensive knowledge and experience with the VPSO program and the Alaska State Troopers.

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I would like to respond to Molly Kemp's My Turn regarding the VPSO program in Tenakee Springs. The Tlingit and Haida Central Council does not have police power to transfer to Tenakee or anywhere else. The state of Alaska has police power exercised by Village Public Safety Officers under the direct supervision of the Alaska State Troopers.

Although the Central Council is the employer of VPSOs, any law enforcement function they perform is controlled by the Alaska State Troopers. VPSOs investigate crimes, arrest offenders, submit reports, and perform other law enforcement functions for the Alaska State Troopers, not the Central Council. The state of Alaska, not the Central Council, prosecutes violators. The statement that the Central Council is transferring police power to a nongovernmental entity simply is in error.

The Alaska State Troopers wanted to maintain the VPSO position in Tenakee Springs as did a large number of people who live and/or own property there. When the Tenakee City Council declined to continue the program, it was necessary to find another entity to provide the support required by the regulations under which the VPSO program operates. The Tenakee Springs Tlingit and Haida Traditional Council was asked if it would be willing to provide the required support.

Approval was sought and received from the Alaska State Troopers' VPSO program manager in Anchorage before it was undertaken. Under the VPSO program, the Alaska State Troopers must grant approval before a letter of agreement can be entered into for any VPSO position. This was not and could not be a unilateral decision of the Central Council.

Seeking the assistance of the Tenakee Springs Tlingit and Haida Traditional Council was simply an effort to maintain the VPSO position in Tenakee. There were no ulterior motives or hidden agendas.

With respect to the statement regarding private individuals with no connection to the elected municipal government supervising VPSO law enforcement, that simply does not happen. The Tenakee Traditional Council has no law enforcement authority, nor for that matter does the Central Council. All VPSO law enforcement authority comes directly from the Alaska State Troopers, or a municipal government if they choose to participate in the VPSO program. Tenakee chose not to participate, so any law enforcement related to their ordinances would not have been undertaken by the VPSO. The VPSO program gives local communities the opportunity to participate in law enforcement. If the state of Alaska chose to, they could place a trooper into a community without extending any opportunity for input by the local governing body.

VPSOs are not meant to be the panacea to resolve all public safety problems in a community. They provide an official link between the state of Alaska and the local community for emergency public safety problems. VPSOs have an official duty to respond to crimes and other emergencies, which volunteers do not. Community volunteers do provide excellent emergency medical services and volunteer firefighting, and many of these individuals are better trained in these areas than VPSOs. Communities however do not have volunteer law enforcement officers with the authority and training to deal with sometimes violent and dangerous situations. VPSOs are trained to handle most situations that occur. However, if they encounter a situation that is beyond their training and ability they have direct contact with the Alaska State Troopers for advice, council and backup.

The VPSO program has nothing to do with any issues related to the establishment of tribal governments or the formation of new Native corporations. The mission of the VPSO program is now and has always been to provide basic public safety services to small rural communities. The Central Council has provided this service to the communities of Southeast Alaska at the behest of the state of Alaska since the VPSO program started in 1980. There is absolutely no history of anything other than working to fulfill the mission of the VPSO program in the communities served.

My purpose in addressing the above points is to present the facts of how the Central Council VPSO program works with the state of Alaska and local communities. It is intended to provide a good service to people who otherwise would not have it.

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