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Should Alaska VPSOs Be Allowed to Carry Guns?

By Corey Allen-Young, Education Reporter, cyoung@ktuu.com
Published On: Nov 27 2013 06:15:42 PM AKST
Updated On: Nov 28 2013 07:47:05 AM AKST

The Department of Public Safety is debating whether or not it should allow its Village Public Safety Officers to be armed while on duty.
By Reporter Corey Allen-Young.  (KTUU-TV)

ANCHORAGE -

The state Department of Public Safety is debating whether or not it should allow village public safety officers to be armed while on duty.

In many communities across the state, there is no local police department and Alaska State Troopers are a flight away if something goes wrong. 

As a result, VPSOs are crucial first responders -- but the peace officers have limited training and they are not allowed to carry guns.

DPS officials have been reconsidering the department's firearms policy ever since March 19, when Manokotak VPSO Thomas Madole was fatally shot while responding to a report that Leroy B. Dick Jr. was suicidal at a local home. Dick faces first-degree murder charges after troopers say he stepped out of the home armed with a .223-caliber rifle, then shot Madole to death as he was running away.

Manokotak is still struggling to deal with Madole's tragic death. 

"Sometimes the smallest things trigger the tears," said Luan Madole, Thomas' widow, at a hearing on the policy. "I have no control over it. I realize my life will never be normal again." 

Walt Monegan, former public safety commissioner, spoke in favor of arming VPSOs, noting that they face danger all the time.

"I think it's long overdue," he said. "There's a lot of violence, there's a lot of alcohol, there's substance abuse issues. You get individuals who are intoxicated or high and they start reacting in a violent way." 

Monegan said most precarious situations end peacefully, with conversation diffusing tense moments. But on rare occasions, no amount of talk or time will subdue a person who is in trouble.

Hooper Bay Mayor Joseph Bell said he is torn.

"I'm between yes and no, in the middle, right in the middle," Bell said. "I'm concerned about their safety, but if the community of Hooper Bay agrees, I will go along with it."

Monegan said one of the biggest holdups for arming VPSOs is the threat of liability with potential lawsuits if someone got shot.

The Department of Public Safety declined to comment on the proposed changes, but Gov. Sean Parnell's spokesperson Sharon Leighow said the governor is following the issue closely.

"This important issue is on the governor's radar and he looks forward to the public discussion on the proposed regulation changes," Leighow said.

A public comment period lasts until Jan. 17, with DPS asking Alaskans to share their thoughts on its website.