Firearm training for Alaska village public safety officers could begin in January

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Firearm training for Alaska village public safety officers could begin as early as January, an Alaska State Trooper in charge of the program said.

A legislative bill recently signed into law by Gov. Sean Parnell will allow the officers to carry firearms for the first time. It remains to be seen whether regional organizations that employ the officers will choose to arm them, the Alaska Dispatch News (http://is.gd/VjjOcp) reported.

Some of the officers likely will be armed by the end of 2015, said trooper Sgt. Leonard Wallner, the statewide coordinator for the rural officer force.

The 10 regional organizations that receive state grants to oversee the officers in their member villages generally support arming the officers, Wallner said. But the organizations want more information on how the process would work, particularly when it comes to liability and public safety.

"Everyone's on board," Wallner said. "They just have more questions that need to be answered."

Under the bill signed into law July 18, officers who meet certain training requirements may carry firearms under state Department of Public Safety regulations. State Rep. Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham Democrat, proposed that the Legislature expand the officers' powers and allow them to carry guns. The bill was approved unanimously.

The Tanana Chiefs Conference, which represents 42 federally recognized tribes in Alaska's interior, supports the effort. However, the Fairbanks-based organization passed a Feb. 7 resolution saying that any officers who are armed should be required to "meet a physical and mental fitness standard" before being hired.

"We've got to make sure we're doing the right thing," Tanana Chiefs spokesman Greg Bringhurst said.

The state plans to discuss details in September at a quarterly meeting with village public safety officer contractors, Wallner said.

Firearms are commonplace in rural Alaska homes, where many people hunt to feed their families. It's not unusual for the officers to be the first responders in households where residents have guns and the officers do not have them.

The Bristol Bay Native Association called for the officers to be armed after the March 2013 fatal shooting of Manokotak Village Public Safety Officer Thomas Madole.

"Our board very strongly supports the program and wants to make sure their VPSOs are able to protect themselves," said Ralph Andersen, CEO of the association.


Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, http://www.adn.com

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