Governor Signs Edgmon Legislation to Allow Arming of VPSOs
HB 199 gives regional Native Associations option to fully equip officers
Friday, July 18, 2014, Naknek, Alaska – Governor Sean Parnell today signed into law House Bill 199, which establishes the Legislature’s intent that properly trained Village Public Safety Officers (VPSOs) should be allowed to carry firearms in the performance of their duties. Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, sponsored the bill following the tragic shooting death of Manokotak VPSO Thomas Madole in March 2013.
“VPSOs work often without backup in remote locations where a call to the State Troopers can mean hours before backup arrive,” Edgmon said at the time. “We can’t continue to ask these first responders to walk unarmed into situations that pose obvious dangers.”
After HB 199 was introduced, the Dept. of Public Safety adopted regulations permitting VPSOs to carry firearms. The Department’s policy will expand VPSO training through the State Trooper Academy in Sitka. The firearms training and psychological screening that armed VPSOs receive will be identical to that given to State Troopers and municipal police officers. With the governor’s signing of HB 199, the state’s support for this policy is clear and unambiguous.
“It’s only fitting that the legislation was signed in Bristol Bay, where two VPSOs have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty,” Edgmon said.
The VPSO program was started in the late 1970s as a way to provide public safety services to communities in rural Alaska without a local or state law-enforcement presence. The program is a unique partnership between the Dept. of Public Safety and Alaska’s regional Native associations, who oversee VPSOs in their respective communities.
It is important to note that this law does not require VPSO to be armed. Rather, it makes that option available to the Native associations and their member towns and villages. “I want for VPSOs to have every tool they feel they need to carry out their duty as law enforcement officers,” Edgmon said. “For those villages that do make this choice, my hope is that the deterrent effect will make not only the VPSO but also the whole community safer.”
HB 199 enjoyed wide bi-partisan support, with a total of 37 co-sponsors. It passed the House and Senate unanimously. The law takes effect in 90 days.