The law is headed back to Angoon.
The Admiralty Island village of 500 lost its police department a year and a half ago when its one officer decided to retire.
Since then, the closest thing to a local cop the villagers have seen is one of the three Alaska State Troopers from Juneau who jump on a plane and fly the 55 miles whenever a call comes in.
"No other town of its size in Southeast Alaska is without law enforcement," said Sgt. David Tracy, one of three troopers who respond to calls in Angoon. "I would say a trooper is responding from Juneau roughly once a week."
But now Angoon Mayor Walter Jack says a deal has been struck that will send a public safety officer to the village, perhaps within a month.
Angoon officials, troopers and the Kodiak Area Native Association, which will oversee the officer's placement, worked out a formal agreement the city council signed on July 19, Jack said.
"We've been able to get by," Jack said. "I think that pretty much the (entire) community sees there is a need for a VPSO."
Village public safety officers aren't trained as full-fledged police officers, and the new safety officer won't be a substitute for one, troopers say.
But for rural Alaska villages like Angoon that can't afford to run their own police departments, village public safety officers are a local law enforcement presence that takes some of the burden off troopers who patrol scores of roadless villages.
Angoon's public safety officer will be a first responder to emergencies, misdemeanors and felonies, said Valent Maxwell, VPSO coordinator for the Kodiak Area Native Association.
Angoon had a village public safety officer briefly last fall, but that situation "deteriorated" when problems arose with the officer's housing and the officer quit, Maxwell said. The housing situation appears to have been worked out, Jack and Maxwell both said.
The public safety officer, who is funded by the state, will work for the troopers and will investigate misdemeanors such as criminal trespassing and domestic violence. The officer will be able to find witnesses and detain suspects, but felony investigations will be performed by troopers.
The program is effective in many smaller places, but it may be less of a fit in a place as big as Angoon, Tracy said.
"The best thing for a city that size is to have its own law enforcement department," Tracy said. The VPSO program "is a way to provide service to a community, and it will help us, but what needs to happen is we need to get somebody in there trained. Until then, our work will be similar to what it is now."
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