The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska is administering the Village Public Safety Officer program at the Vocational Training & Resource Center this week in Juneau.
The state has funded the VPSO program for fiscal year 2011 the amount of $679,909, an increase of $211,707. The program provides rural Alaskan communities with needed public safety services and basic law enforcement at the local level. It is receiving nearly $680,000 from the state, an increase of more than $211,000 from the last fiscal year.
"Why do we need you? Why is it important the state has VPSOs?" Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell asked the six men who began training Monday. "Because you are the community ownership representation to the law enforcement agencies of the state... we want someone from the community, who knows the community, who can solve problems without an arrest... the goal is to have a society in the community who respect the law, comply with the law, and appreciate those who are there to help them."
Joseph Masters, who is now the commissioner of Alaska's Department of Public Safety, began his more than 24 years of law enforcement as a VPSO in his home village of Unalaska. He said having a safety officer in a community decreases the chance of an injury-causing assault by 40 percent, and makes a prosecution in sexual assault cases 3 1/2 times more likely.
Two years ago only 47 VPSOs were in the state, and 120 communities were without any type of law enforcement, Masters said. Today there are 75 officers and by 2011 there will be 86.
"They are first responders... to fires, search and rescue, EMT teams, just about everything in the community," VPSO Coordinator Jason Wilson said.
VPSOs do not carry firearms. They do have stun guns, batons, and pepper spray. Cell phones are important, if service is available, and transportation can vary from bike, boat, car, or four-wheeler.
"We are a one man band for the most part," VPSO Sgt. Charles Hartzell said. "For instance, right now there is no one in Angoon while I am here... I took multiple phone calls last night, I am someone who can be called any time of the day or night by anyone in the community."
Along with Hartzell, VPSOs from Thorn Bay, Hydaburg, Pelican and Kake are receiving training this week.
"We want to make sure our VPSOs are adequately trained to deal with some of the challenges within the community," Central Council President Edward Thomas said. "It is hard enough to be out there by yourself in the community when the problems in communities go 24 hours. It is really important to have this training and communicate with each other on ways to improve."
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