ANCHORAGE - Alaska's rural police program is improving, with more officer vacancies filled and a significant reduction in turnovers, the state's top police officer said Thursday.
But Public Safety Commissioner Joe Masters said much work remains to better serve villages across the state,
Masters told lawmakers at a hearing that 90 villages have no law enforcement presence at all, relying solely on state troopers based far away. Of 71 funded positions in the Village Public Safety Officer - or VPSO - program, 58 are filled with another seven possible hires pending. Last year, 47 positions were filled.
"I'm advocating that we need to have some level of response and I think the larger the communities, the more that level should be," Masters said. "And in most cases that means that there is a trained law enforcement or public safety officer in every community that wants one and needs one."
The hearing Thursday before the Public Safety Finance subcommittees of the state House and Senate coincided with the start of the Alaska Federal of Natives' annual convention, which kicked off in Anchorage. The legislative hearing was planned for the same time to give convention participants traveling from villages a chance to hear about the VPSO program and address any concerns.