State working on bringing back village constables

Posted: Monday, November 06, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The state is working on a plan to bring 20 constables to Bush Alaska in the next three years.

Gov. Tony Knowles announced the plan recently during an appearance at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Anchorage. He said he and Public Safety Commissioner Glenn Godfrey were working on the plan.

For the last two decades, rural Alaskans have relied on Village Public Safety Officers and Village Public Officers. VPOs and VPSOs carry no weapons, have little training and are paid a fraction of what other law enforcement officers earn.

At the same time, rural Alaska has some of the highest crime rates in the state, including topping the charts in domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicides.

Knowles said bringing the constable program back to the Bush will increase village safety because the officers will receive training comparable to that of Alaska State Troopers, and will get a paycheck that will reflect that.

They will carry guns and be authorized to go out on calls and conduct investigations on felonies or other crimes where a VPSO or VPO is only authorized to secure the scene and wait for troopers.

Constables will live in the community in which they serve without the worry of being transferred a year or so down the road, a chief complaint of many who have been interested in state law enforcement in the past, Godfrey said.

''It's a lot more difficult in a state that's a fifth the size of the United States,'' he said. ''You don't just hop in a car and drive down the road to another post.''

The state's constable program was in effect from 1974 to 1986, when the job classification was dropped. At that time, there were 15 constable positions, 13 of which were filled, according to troopers. The VPSO program began in 1981, with 52 positions throughout the state. Last August, 71 VPSOs served 70 villages, according to an Alaska Justice Forum report, and another 53 villages had vacant positions.

Many of the constables in the mid-1980s decided to join the troopers, Godfrey said, so the program was eliminated.

Part of plan also will include a pay raise for VPSOs, the governor said, and will ask that 40 more safety officers be hired over a three-year period.

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