EDITORIAL: Progress made in village public safety officer program

Gov. Sean Parnell told the Alaska Federation of Natives in 2009 he would put a law enforcement officer in every village that wanted one. In subsequent years, the Legislature has agreed to build up annual funding for village public safety officers in an effort to fulfill the governor’s pledge.

Filling the positions has been more difficult, but the state must keep trying to do so. The village officers encourage safer, more law-abiding communities in rural Alaska. People in these communities are begging for help.

Progress was encouraging last year. As reported Jan. 22 in the News-Miner, the state hired 15 new village public safety officers statewide, meeting the governor’s annual goal.

Recruitment of new officers is up, too. Thirty-eight people are training at the Public Safety Academy in Sitka this year, up from 19 in 2008.

The shortage of officers seems particularly acute in the Interior. Only six Interior villages have VPSOs today — Arctic Village, Beaver, Eagle, Huslia, Ruby and Tanana. Recruits for Northway and Tetlin should fill positions shortly. And Tanana Chiefs Conference, which manages the Interior regional program for the state, is working to get positions filled in a few more locations.

There’s plenty of room for growth, though. The Interior has 43 villages. Some of those 43 are too small to justify a full-time VPSO, but certainly the program should provide staff in more than eight villages.

Village public safety officers aren’t state troopers, but they can serve as trained and objective authority figures when needed. Those who live in communities are immediately available to respond to crimes. Living in the villages, they can establish a rapport with local people and leaders that often is difficult for troopers to achieve. They also are cheaper to employ than troopers.

The state must continue to build on this effort. It’s by no means the answer to all the troubles in villages, but it’s an essential first step.

01/26/2012 - 7:41am