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House Passes Bill Allowing Arming of VPSOs (HB199/Edgmon)

HB199 offers avenue for Native Corps to train up officers

Monday, March 10, 2014, Juneau, Alaska – The Alaska House of Representatives today passed a bill by Rep. Bryce Edgmon to allow Village Public Safety Officers, or VPSOs, to carry firearms. House Bill 199 establishes the Legislature’s clear intent that VPSOs should have all the tools they need as law enforcement officers to carry out their duties.

“House Bill 199 will make the state’s support for this policy clear and unambiguous,” Edgmon, D-Dillingham, said. “All VPSOs that will carry firearms will receive extensive additional screening, training and equipment. It is my strong belief that it’s unreasonable to continue to ask these men and women to put their lives in harm’s way without being fully equipped to protect themselves.”

The bill would expand VPSO training through the Alaska Dept. of Public Safety’s State Trooper Academy in Sitka, and make sure candidates meet the standards set forth by the Alaska Police Standards Council, which is what all State Troopers and municipal police officers receive. The bill doesn’t require VPSOs to be armed, it just allows the regional Native associations and communities served by VPSOs to make that choice.

“The wishes of the individual communities must be respected,” Edgmon said. “Everyone involved must have a thorough understanding of the issues surrounding arming these officers. Arming these first responders, who sometimes because of weather face hours or even days before Trooper back-up arrives, will have a deterrent effect and make our communities safer.”

Since HB 199 was introduced last session, the Dept. of Public Safety has drafted regulations to allow properly trained VPSOs to carry firearms while on duty. The regulations also detail training and oversight. Edgmon said efforts are underway between the Department and Native associations to ensure the highest standards of applicability and evaluation will be used if the bill becomes law.

The VPSO program was started in the late 1970s as a way to provide communities in rural Alaska with local public safety services in areas where there was no local or State Trooper presence.

HB 199 now moves to the Alaska Senate for consideration.

 

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