Legislature(2013 - 2014)BARNES 124


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Heard & Held
Moved CSHB 181(CRA) Out of Committee
                      HB 199-VPSO FIREARMS                                                                                  
8:03:09 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX announced that the  first order of business would                                                               
be HOUSE BILL  NO. 199, "An Act relating to  Department of Public                                                               
Safety  regulations allowing  village public  safety officers  to                                                               
carry firearms."                                                                                                                
8:03:30 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE EDGMON, Alaska State  Legislature, speaking as the                                                               
sponsor  of HB  199,  explained that  the  Village Public  Safety                                                               
Officer (VPSO)  program provides  a host  of services  beyond law                                                               
enforcement in  the 90 or  so communities where active  VPSOs are                                                               
located.   He  reviewed the  history of  the VPSO  Program, which                                                               
began in the late 1970s when  the program was funded with federal                                                               
funds.  The number of  communities served by VPSOs has fluctuated                                                               
over the  years in relation to  the turnover rate of  VPSOs.  The                                                               
challenges of the program have  been somewhat consistent over the                                                               
years and include turnover, salary  levels, housing, Alaska State                                                               
Trooper  oversight,  and   facilities/equipment.    Although  the                                                               
aforementioned challenges  remain, he expressed  appreciation for                                                               
the recent  attempts of Governor Parnell  and former Commissioner                                                               
Masters for  to make  the VPSO  program more  viable than  it has                                                               
been in years, particularly the  commitment to add 15 VPSOs every                                                               
year in  an attempt to place  a VPSO in every  community in rural                                                               
Alaska that  would benefit from  such a service.   Representative                                                               
Edgmon related  his understanding that  VPSOs attend 12  weeks of                                                               
rigorous training  in Sitka; the training  covers multiple areas,                                                               
including firefighting, CPR, basic  law enforcement, and domestic                                                               
violence.   However,  the  training doesn't  reach  the level  of                                                               
municipal  law enforcement  in terms  of carrying  a firearm  and                                                               
driving an  emergency vehicle.  Representative  Edgmon emphasized                                                               
that the crux of HB 199 is to  ensure VPSOs can do their job.  He                                                               
pointed  out  that VPSOs  in  rural  Alaska sometimes  walk  into                                                               
lethal  situations and  the  VPSO  is armed  with  only a  baton,                                                               
Taser, handcuffs, and a protective  vest.  Representative Edgmon,                                                               
noting that he was born and  raised in rural Alaska, related that                                                               
although  the situation  in  rural Alaska  has  improved in  many                                                               
respects,  the  social  issues, domestic  violence,  and  violent                                                               
confrontations have  increased.  For that  reason, Representative                                                               
Edgmon said he introduced HB  199, which would insert language in                                                               
statute  that  would prohibit  the  Department  of Public  Safety                                                               
(DPS)  from denying  local nonprofits  and communities  to employ                                                               
armed  VPSOs.   To be  armed, the  VPSOs would  have to  meet the                                                               
minimum standards of firearm training,  which he understood would                                                               
be  certified  by  the  Alaska  Police  Standards  Council.    He                                                               
acknowledged that  there are some  smaller communities  that have                                                               
trepidation or resistance  to having armed VPSOs  and pointed out                                                               
that employment of armed VPSOs would  be done with the consent of                                                               
the local  decision makers  and community.   The fiscal  note, he                                                               
noted, is  fairly modest as  it envisions 20 VPSOs  going through                                                               
the  firearm training  in Sitka.   The  fiscal note  includes the                                                               
travel  of  the  VPSOs  to   Sitka,  the  general  liability  the                                                               
department  would  have to  provide,  as  well as  the  necessary                                                               
8:10:18 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX opened public testimony for HB 199.                                                                             
8:11:13 AM                                                                                                                    
ALVIN  JIMMIE,  VPSO  Program Director,  Association  of  Village                                                               
Council Presidents (AVCP) VPSO Program,  began by noting that his                                                               
testimony is on behalf of AVCP  and its VPSO Program.  He further                                                               
noted that  the success of  the VPSO Program is  highly dependent                                                               
upon a strong partnership between  AVCP, the State of Alaska, and                                                               
the local and  tribal governments.  He  attributed the leadership                                                               
of the Alaska  State Troopers, AVCP, and the local  tribes as one                                                               
that  has forged  a relationship  that has  continued to  advance                                                               
public  safety in  the region.   The  AVCP, he  related, supports                                                               
HB 199.   As many may know,  the first VPSO Program  began in the                                                               
AVCP  region in  1979.   Over the  last 30  years, the  AVCP VPSO                                                               
Program has  grown to be the  largest VPSO Program in  the state.                                                               
In fact,  the AVCP VPSO  Program currently employees  almost one-                                                               
quarter of all the  VPSOs in Alaska.  With the  help of the State                                                               
of Alaska,  AVCP's goal is  to place at  least two VPSOs  in each                                                               
village; the AVCP region consists of  56 tribes.  Mr. Jimmie told                                                               
the committee that AVCP's VPSOs  are highly dedicated individuals                                                               
committed  to  providing  the  highest  level  of  public  safety                                                               
service to  their respective villages.   The AVCP's  standards of                                                               
employment  ensure  that   only  individuals  who  satisfactorily                                                               
complete a  strict background  check are hired.   He  opined that                                                               
continued employment  is dependent upon successful  completion of                                                               
the  12-week annual  and field  training at  the VPSO  Academy as                                                               
well  as  a probationary  period.    He  further opined  that  in                                                               
addition  to   the  training,  [AVCP]  VPSOs   possess  a  unique                                                               
dedication and courage  to respond virtually alone to  calls on a                                                               
daily basis,  which places  VPSOs in a  unique class  of officers                                                               
that  few would  be willing  to join.   Mr.  Jimmie informed  the                                                               
committee  that he  is a  former VPSO  who understands  the risks                                                               
involved  with unarmed  law enforcement  protection.   The debate                                                               
regarding  whether to  arm VPSOs  is not  new and  needs no  more                                                               
debate,  but it  does require  a coordinated  effort between  the                                                               
state,  the VPSO  programs,  and the  communities  they serve  to                                                               
decide how to proceed.   The Native nonprofits aren't simply VPSO                                                               
employers,  but are  responsible and  sophisticated organizations                                                               
that  provide  resources  to engage  in  law  enforcement  policy                                                               
issues at an educated and  goal-oriented level.  Only within such                                                               
a  framework, he  proffered, will  solutions  emerge through  the                                                               
continuing  questions  raised  during  the debate.    Mr.  Jimmie                                                               
related that a  poll of AVCP VPSOs reveals that  they 100 percent                                                               
support being  armed.  He further  related that AVCP is  ready to                                                               
take   on   this   new    responsibility.      Proper   training,                                                               
certification, and  other law  enforcement standards  must remain                                                               
in place prior  to implementation.  However,  he highlighted that                                                               
funding is critical to ensure  appropriate equipment, initial and                                                               
ongoing training, and other  items that accompany implementation.                                                               
In closing, Mr. Jimmie related  confidence that with a commitment                                                               
from the  stakeholders all of  the issues  that may arise  can be                                                               
addressed  and the  partnership with  the state  can reach  a new                                                               
level of public safety for those  [in the region].  "The lives of                                                               
our officers depend upon it," he said.                                                                                          
8:16:41 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR NAGEAK asked if Mr.  Jimmie will supervise the AVCP VPSO                                                               
Program if HB 199 passes.                                                                                                       
MR.  JIMMIE stated  that the  matter is  still under  discussion.                                                               
[The AVCP  VPSOs] can  take responsibility as  they have  in past                                                               
years  and he  would  be  the individual  who  would continue  to                                                               
supervisor officers in the region.                                                                                              
8:18:03 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR NAGEAK interjected that  VPSO supervisors should also be                                                               
trained with the VPSOs in terms of firearm use.                                                                                 
8:18:43 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE HERRON  asked if  Mr. Jimmie  is supervised  by an                                                               
Alaska State Trooper.                                                                                                           
MR. JIMMIE replied no, adding  that he is currently supervised by                                                               
AVCP.   However,  he expressed  the  desire to  work closer  with                                                               
Alaska State Troopers.                                                                                                          
8:20:00 AM                                                                                                                    
MIKE COONS, referred to letters  in the committee packet from the                                                               
Aleutian  Pribilof Islands  Association,  Inc.  dated August  21,                                                               
2013,  and from  Robert Claus  dated  September 17,  2013.   Both                                                               
letters express concerns  with regard to who will  set the rules.                                                               
Mr. Coons  noted his agreement  with [Co-Chair  Nageak's] earlier                                                               
comment that supervisors of VPSOs  who carry firearms should have                                                               
an extensive  firearm background.   Mr. Coons then turned  to his                                                               
prepared statement, which he read as follows:                                                                                   
     I'm a former Alaska  state defense constable, a retired                                                                    
     paramedic,  and a  former armed  security officer  with                                                                    
     the United  States Air Force at  [Joint Base Elmendorf-                                                                    
     Richardson] JBER.   I have  seen and worked  with VPSOs                                                                    
     and the Hooper Bay Police.   I worked in Allakaket as a                                                                    
     paramedic for  the better  part of a  year and  a half.                                                                    
     As the constable, I was  at Hooper Bay for three months                                                                    
     working  with the  Hooper Bay  Police Department.   The                                                                    
     concept  of VPSOs  and police  in  small villages  like                                                                    
     Hooper  Bay  has definite  pros  and  cons.   While  at                                                                    
     Allakaket, we  had several  cases of  domestic violence                                                                    
     situations with criminal subjects  armed, mainly with a                                                                    
     rifle,  shooting up  the girlfriends'  homes.   In  one                                                                    
     occasion,  we  had  several   people  shooting  up  the                                                                    
     village    and   specifically    destroying   (indisc.)                                                                    
     equipment  and  its property.    In  all cases,  Alaska                                                                    
     State  Troopers were  called in  to  stop the  criminal                                                                    
     activity and  make the  arrest.  The  VPSO at  the time                                                                    
     was  unable to  do much  since he  was unarmed  and not                                                                    
     allowed to  use deadly force.   Fortunately, nobody was                                                                    
     serious  injured  or died.    Of  the greater  problem,                                                                    
     though,  was that  the  Fairbanks  judges kept  letting                                                                    
     these people  out on bail,  return to the  village, and                                                                    
     the  same problem  happened over  and over  again.   We                                                                    
     need to  address criminal  behavior and  lenient judges                                                                    
     who put others in remote  villages at an increased risk                                                                    
     over  that  of  just  arming  the  VPSOs.    That  same                                                                    
     situation with  the judges  was seen  at Hooper  Bay as                                                                    
     well.   At Hooper Bay,  although we as  constables were                                                                    
     armed  ... we  seldom  carried at  the  request of  the                                                                    
     police chief.  Good verbal  skills diffused all but one                                                                    
     situation and the  State Troopers were called  in for a                                                                    
     barricaded person  with a firearm ...  resolved without                                                                    
     injury.   The police chief had  an excellent department                                                                    
     and  with  the  proper  training  of  his  officers,  I                                                                    
     believe  those  officers  would have  done  well  being                                                                    
     armed,  mainly  because  of the  excellent  supervisory                                                                    
     aspect  of  the  police  chief.     This  situation  is                                                                    
     different    than   single    VPSOs   without    direct                                                                    
     supervision,  like  at Hooper  Bay.    What I  saw  and                                                                    
     experienced  in the  culture, most  of the  issues were                                                                    
     alcohol   related   with   people  wanting   to   fight                                                                    
     occasionally.   Anytime an  officer carries  a firearm,                                                                    
     it isn't  just training, it  is a mindset  and judgment                                                                    
     that must come  into play.  Of  paramount importance is                                                                    
     the mindset  that if  the occasion  were to  arise that                                                                    
     deadly force  was necessary that  that officer  has the                                                                    
     mental ability  to do so.   Some may  some may not.   I                                                                    
     agree that  there are  times where a  VPSO needs  to be                                                                    
     armed to protect  others as well as  himself.  However,                                                                    
     the  arming of  VPSOs  should  be based  on  a host  of                                                                    
     factors   and   judgment   by  those   State   Troopers                                                                    
     overseeing  the  VPSOs.     Those  factors  range  from                                                                    
     village  culture, size,  past  criminal  problems to  a                                                                    
     solid  subjective and  objective review  of each  VPSO.                                                                    
     This  should not  be  a blanket  decision  and the  DPS                                                                    
     commissioner must  have the ability  to determine  on a                                                                    
     case-by-case  basis if  and whom  the VPSOs  are to  be                                                                    
     armed  and  under  what guidelines  and  circumstances.                                                                    
     There  should  be  cross  talk  with  city  and  tribal                                                                    
     entities  and  corporations,  but  the  final  decision                                                                    
     should rest with  the commissioner.  I  do believe that                                                                    
     HB 199  is taking  this to  a better  level due  to the                                                                    
     need for the public and VPSO safety.                                                                                       
8:24:49 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  FOSTER inquired  as  to the  training program  to                                                               
carry firearms.                                                                                                                 
MR. COONS  informed the committee  that the training  he received                                                               
was  extensive, particularly  at Elmendorf  Air Force  Base where                                                               
the rules of  engagement and use of force  continuum were taught.                                                               
He specified  that the training  is knowledge beyond  drawing the                                                               
weapon and placing  bullets in a certain size  area; the training                                                               
includes knowledge regarding what is  behind the target, when and                                                               
when not to draw,  the use of verbal judo, the  use of Tasers and                                                               
pepper  spray, and  the use  of other  means before  reaching the                                                               
point  of drawing  a  firearm.   He  pointed  out that  [firearm]                                                               
training has to be continuous  and the Alaska State Troopers need                                                               
to help instill the aforementioned  thought processes with VPSOs.                                                               
The aforementioned will take time.                                                                                              
8:27:18 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE HERRON asked whether Mr. Coons supports HB 199.                                                                  
MR. COONS  clarified that he supports  the concept of HB  199 and                                                               
that there  are VPSOs  who can  handle and for  whom it  would be                                                               
beneficial [to carry a firearm].   He reiterated that the ability                                                               
for VPSOs to  carry firearms should be under  strict training and                                                               
supervision, which  he questioned whether HB  199 addresses fully                                                               
or  appropriately.   He  then stated  that  the DPS  commissioner                                                               
needs to  have a  lot of  [oversight] on the  matter.   Mr. Coons                                                               
said that overall he supports [HB 199].                                                                                         
8:28:36 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE HERRON inquired  as to why a VPSO  would need more                                                               
training  to carry  a firearm  than a  municipal police  officer,                                                               
particularly in light  of Mr. Jimmie's comment  that the training                                                               
would be ongoing.                                                                                                               
MR. COONS  said he didn't  have a problem  if the VPSOs  take the                                                               
same minimum  training as  that of  the municipal  police officer                                                               
and it's ongoing.                                                                                                               
8:30:01 AM                                                                                                                    
TERRY VRABEC,  Deputy Commissioner,  Office of  the Commissioner,                                                               
Department of  Public Safety, related  DPS's support for  HB 199,                                                               
but acknowledged  that there  are some  very important  things to                                                               
address in  order to achieve  success.  With regard  to training,                                                               
he  noted that  the  DPS Academy  falls under  his  purview.   If                                                               
HB 199 passes, Mr.  Vrabec said he and the  Academy commander are                                                               
comfortable that they can develop  a successful training program.                                                               
As the attached fiscal note specifies, the costs are minimal.                                                                   
8:31:23 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE REINBOLD  asked whether  Mr. Vrabec  believes only                                                               
select individuals should be trained  and that [the VPSO Program]                                                               
should fall directly under the commissioner.                                                                                    
MR. VRABEC  explained that [the  program] would  essentially fall                                                               
under the commissioner  because DPS oversees the  DPS Academy and                                                               
performs  Alaska State  Trooper oversight  for the  VPSO Program.                                                               
Mr. Vrabec  clarified that  he didn't want  to refer  to training                                                               
for  select  officers, but  rather  pointed  out that  not  every                                                               
officer will  be able  to get  through the  training.   For those                                                               
organizations that want  to employ armed VPSOs,  DPS will support                                                               
them to make it work.                                                                                                           
8:32:23 AM                                                                                                                    
MR.  VRABEC, in  response to  Representative Herron,  agreed that                                                               
there are  always some  officers and  trooper recruits  who don't                                                               
make  it through  the training  and don't  graduate from  the DPS                                                               
8:33:10 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX asked if VPSOs are hired on an annual contract.                                                                 
MR. VRABEC deferred to Captain  Arlow, but reminded the committee                                                               
that  although VPSOs  are  trained through  the  DPS Academy  and                                                               
receive  oversight   from  DPS,  they  aren't   officially  state                                                               
employees as they work for the nonprofit organizations.                                                                         
8:33:52 AM                                                                                                                    
STEVEN  ARLOW,  Captain,  Alaska State  Troopers,  VPSO  Support,                                                               
Department of Public Safety, confirmed  that once VPSOs are hired                                                               
by the nonprofits  they are nonprofit employees  and that doesn't                                                               
have to  be renewed  annually.   He noted that  there is  a large                                                               
turnover rate with VPSOs.                                                                                                       
8:34:23 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX posed  a scenario in which [a VPSO]  is hired for                                                               
a discreet amount  of time and [that VPSO] is  not required to be                                                               
armed at that time but is still  working when HB 199 passes.  She                                                               
then asked what  would happen to such a [VPSO]  who couldn't pass                                                               
the training.                                                                                                                   
CAPTAIN ARLOW  noted that there  have been conversations  on that                                                               
issue.  The conclusion of the  10 entities with which [the Alaska                                                               
State Troopers] contract is that  VPSOs who are not interested in                                                               
carrying   firearms  won't   be  dismissed   from  the   program.                                                               
Conversely, a  VPSO who  has qualified and  completed all  of the                                                               
aspects of firearm training, but  later falls below the standards                                                               
could lose the ability to carry a firearm.                                                                                      
8:36:38 AM                                                                                                                    
JOSEPH MASTERS, speaking on his own  behalf, noted that he is the                                                               
former  commissioner of  DPS  and  will be  leaving  the post  in                                                               
October.   He  also noted  that  he is  a former  VPSO, which  he                                                               
opined places  him in a unique  position.  Mr. Masters  said that                                                               
he has also been  in the unique position of being  one of the two                                                               
commissioners who  was sitting when a  VPSO was lost in  the line                                                               
of  duty.   He related  that during  the last  five years  he has                                                               
observed  a  new   dynamic  in  terms  of   violence  toward  law                                                               
enforcement  officers at  all levels  and locales.   Since  2002,                                                               
assaults  against   police  officers  that  resulted   in  injury                                                               
increased by 66 percent and  non-injury assaults increased by 137                                                               
percent.   Therefore, on  average there is  an assault  against a                                                               
VPSO every  month; seven of  the most  recent events in  the past                                                               
several  years  involved threatening  officers  with  the use  of                                                               
firearms.   Under current regulations, VPSOs  are prohibited from                                                               
carrying  firearms  in the  performance  of  their duties.    The                                                               
aforementioned presents an interesting  dynamic for VPSOs because                                                               
with  escalations  in the  use  of  force  against them  and  the                                                               
increased  demand  to  respond  in  villages,  the  VPSO  job  is                                                               
becoming  more dangerous  to the  point that  VPSOs are  carrying                                                               
firearms  even  though prohibited.    This  situation places  the                                                               
state in  a unique position  as it has  to determine how  best to                                                               
assist the  VPSOs and  the employing  nonprofits to  mitigate the                                                               
risks.  Basically, the law  enforcement duties to which the VPSOs                                                               
respond could  be reduced or  VPSOs could be provided  the proper                                                               
training and  certifications to do  their job.  Drawing  from his                                                               
past experiences,  Mr. Masters opined that  effective delivery of                                                               
law enforcement services is  dependent upon community involvement                                                               
and a  partnership between the various  law enforcement agencies.                                                               
He  further opined  that the  reduction  of the  duties of  VPSOs                                                               
isn't a viable  solution because the Alaska  State Troopers can't                                                               
absorb  the  increased  workload  and the  communities  would  be                                                               
placed at  higher risk and danger.   Therefore, this is  the time                                                               
to  change the  thinking in  terms of  how VPSOs  are viewed  and                                                               
their  ability to  carry firearms  to defend  themselves and  the                                                               
public.  He  noted his agreement with the comments  of Mr. Jimmie                                                               
and Mr. Coons.  Mr. Masters  then related his support for HB 199,                                                               
which he  pointed out doesn't  provide free rein to  armed VPSOs.                                                               
The legislation, he  remarked, needs to be  considered in context                                                               
with  existing  statutes and  regulations  as  currently the  DPS                                                               
commissioner has  the authority  to set regulations  that dictate                                                               
the training requirements  for VPSOs to be armed and  HB 199 does                                                               
nothing to diminish that.                                                                                                       
8:43:22 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. MASTERS related that standing  with the family of fallen VPSO                                                               
Thomas Madole  during his  services provided  a sense  of clarity                                                               
regarding  how  much  sacrifice   VPSO  families  go  through  in                                                               
allowing  a family  member to  serve.    The  aforementioned also                                                               
highlighted  the need  for leaders  in the  state to  ensure that                                                               
communities have the  right people to protect them  and that they                                                               
have the appropriate background,  training, and equipment for the                                                               
job.   In closing, Mr.  Masters opined  that HB 199  is necessary                                                               
and it's  time to  allow VPSOs  to be  armed after  receiving the                                                               
proper training and certification.                                                                                              
8:45:24 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  EDGMON thanked  the  committee for  HB  199.   He                                                               
noted that both of the fatalities,  in 1986 and 2013, in the VPSO                                                               
Program occurred in  Bristol Bay.  From talking with  a number of                                                               
VPSOs,  Representative  Edgmon  obtained the  understanding  that                                                               
giving  communities  the option  of  armed  VPSOs may  help  with                                                               
recruitment and retention problems  that have plagued the program                                                               
as a whole.   He then informed the committee  that this last year                                                               
DPS  has   worked  diligently  to   place  language   within  the                                                               
regulations  that  would  allow  VPSOs to  be  armed.    However,                                                               
Representative  Edgmon contended  that placing  such language  in                                                               
statute is  a step further  and provides iron clad  authority for                                                               
the current and future department heads and administrations.                                                                    
8:47:48 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX asked whether Village  Police Officers (VPOs) are                                                               
currently allowed to carry firearms.                                                                                            
MR. MASTERS  explained that VPOs receive  their authority through                                                               
statutes and municipalities, which  have the ability to establish                                                               
police  departments and  hire police  officers  under the  Alaska                                                               
Police  Standards Council  (APSC) regulations  and statutes.   If                                                               
they are  remote, off  the road  system, and  of a  certain size,                                                               
villages can  employee VPOs  under a  different set  of statutes.                                                               
Villages  can  decide  whether  or not  to  arm  their  officers.                                                               
Therefore,  the proposed  statute in  HB 199  would not  impact a                                                               
village with a VPO.  In  further response to Co-Chair LeDoux, Mr.                                                               
Masters  clarified  the  Anchorage   Police  Department  and  its                                                               
officers  are established  under  ASPC regulations  and thus  the                                                               
standards  of   training  and  certification  process   is  quite                                                               
different than the regulations for VPOs.                                                                                        
8:50:52 AM                                                                                                                    
JAKE  METCALFE,  Executive   Director,  Public  Safety  Employees                                                               
Association (PSEA)  Local 803, began  by informing  the committee                                                               
that PSEA  represents the  rank and  file Alaska  State Troopers,                                                               
court  service officers,  airport  police and  fire, deputy  fire                                                               
marshals  all  of which  are  state  employees.   The  PSEA  also                                                               
represents rank  and file police  officers in  the municipalities                                                               
of  Ketchikan, Sitka,  Juneau,  Fairbanks, Soldotna,  Dillingham,                                                               
and  Unalaska.   Therefore, PSEA  represents around  800 members,                                                               
all  of  which  are  certified  police  officers  in  Alaska  and                                                               
regulated by  ASPC.   Mr. Metcalfe then  directed attention  to a                                                               
recent article  in the  Juneau Empire  by Chris  Gifford entitled                                                               
"Rural Alaska deserves certified, trained officers".                                                                            
8:52:42 AM                                                                                                                    
The committee took an at-ease from 8:52 a.m. to 8:54 a.m.                                                                       
8:54:03 AM                                                                                                                    
MR.   METCALFE,   referring   to  Sergeant   Gifford's   article,                                                               
highlighted that VPSOs are not  certified police officers and are                                                               
private  employees   employed  by  the   nonprofit  corporations.                                                               
Furthermore,  VPSOs don't  go through  the  same rigorous  hiring                                                               
process,  training, or  background checks  that certified  police                                                               
officers go  through.  The  aforementioned differences  between a                                                               
VPSO and  a police officer are  of concern, he opined.   However,                                                               
he agreed with Mr. Masters  that times have become more dangerous                                                               
and it's  time to change  thinking.  He then  suggested reviewing                                                               
whether private  police should perform police  functions in rural                                                               
Alaska.    This legislation  extends  law  enforcement to  VPSOs,                                                               
which are private  employees, and places weapons in  the hands of                                                               
folks who don't receive certified  police training like the state                                                               
regulates.  Mr. Metcalfe related his  belief that VPSOs do a good                                                               
job with  the job duties  and resources  they have.   He informed                                                               
the  committee that  from 1990-1997,  he served  as the  district                                                               
attorney  in the  Bethel  region where  AVCP  employed the  VPSOs                                                               
whose  work  included  search  and   rescue,  fire,  limited  law                                                               
enforcement,  and   they  were  overseen  by   the  Alaska  State                                                               
Troopers.   The  VPSOs serve  a purpose,  but it's  not the  same                                                               
purpose as  that of  Alaska State  Troopers and  certified police                                                               
officers.   Mr. Metcalfe  opined that  it's time  the legislature                                                               
consider  having state  employees  perform law  enforcement.   If                                                               
those  state employees  are VPSOs,  they should  become certified                                                               
through  basic  police  officer   training,  which  would  ensure                                                               
firearm training and supervision.                                                                                               
8:58:51 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR NAGEAK  asked if  it's the  responsibility of  the local                                                               
communities  and regions  or the  state  to take  care of  public                                                               
MR.  METCALFE  explained  that police  enforcement,  through  the                                                               
Alaska State Troopers,  is provided to all members  of the state.                                                               
Police enforcement is provided through  airport, police, and fire                                                               
and  municipal  police  departments provide  law  enforcement  in                                                               
municipalities.     Communities   and  the   state  provide   law                                                               
enforcement  that  is  regulated  by  the  state.    Although  he                                                               
characterized   it  as   a  good   law  enforcement   system,  he                                                               
acknowledged that it could do  better by increasing the number of                                                               
Alaska  State Troopers,  port service  officers, and  airport and                                                               
municipal police officers.   The number of  Alaska State Troopers                                                               
hasn't  grown  significantly in  the  last  20 years,  while  the                                                               
number  of VPSOs  has  increased significantly  in  the last  few                                                               
years.  He  recalled that for 3-4 years, the  number of VPSOs was                                                               
increased by  15 annually.   Since VPSOs aren't  certified police                                                               
officers, Mr.  Metcalfe opined that  rural Alaska is  receiving a                                                               
different kind  of law enforcement than  municipalities and other                                                               
regions  of  the  state with  significant  Alaska  State  Trooper                                                               
9:02:08 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR NAGEAK  highlighted that  organized boroughs  can create                                                               
their own  police departments.   The state,  he opined,  needs to                                                               
review  the  responsibility [chain  for  law  enforcement in  the                                                               
9:03:58 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX  asked if  it's realistic to  think that  even if                                                               
the number  of Alaska State  Troopers is increased, one  would be                                                               
placed in small communities with populations of 20-30.                                                                          
MR. VRABEC  answered that  although there is  the desire  to have                                                               
more Alaska  State Troopers, placing  an Alaska State  Trooper in                                                               
every village or  rural area isn't realistic.   Furthermore, some                                                               
of the  rural communities like their  VPSOs and that type  of law                                                               
9:05:01 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE EDGMON,  in response  to Mr.  Metcalfe's comments,                                                               
noted that he sits on the  House Finance Committee and chairs the                                                               
House  Finance Subcommittee  on the  Department of  Public Safety                                                               
and  the   House  Finance  Subcommittee  on   the  Department  of                                                               
Corrections and  will do all he  can to retain the  current level                                                               
of Alaska  State Troopers,  315 throughout  the state.   However,                                                               
budget   circumstances  are   going  to   make  it   challenging.                                                               
Representative Edgmon  remarked that he  could argue that  HB 199                                                               
is  as much  about Alaska  State Troopers  as it  is about  VPSOs                                                               
because the  legislation is  about providing  more tools  for law                                                               
enforcement as  a whole.   Therefore, he expressed hope  that Mr.                                                               
Metcalfe's comments were  to accompany the bigger  picture of the                                                               
proposal to  arm VPSOs.  With  regard to comments that  VPSOs are                                                               
private police,  Representative Edgmon  emphasized that  they are                                                               
not private  police, particularly when one  considers their close                                                               
working  relationship with  the Department  of Public  Safety and                                                               
other entities involved in the criminal justice system.                                                                         
9:07:26 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE HERRON opined that  Mr. Metcalfe is minimizing the                                                               
working  relationship  Alaska  State Troopers  have  with  VPSOs,                                                               
which  would  have  been  apparent  when  Mr.  Metcalfe  was  the                                                               
district  attorney in  Bethel.   He  then asked  if Mr.  Metcalfe                                                               
intends to offer amendments to HB 199.                                                                                          
MR.  METCALFE responded  that it's  possible to  offer amendments                                                               
and  he is  available  to  talk with  committee  members and  the                                                               
sponsor.   With  regard to  his time  in Bethel  as the  district                                                               
attorney,  he confirmed  that  his  time in  Bethel  was a  great                                                               
experience.    Rural Alaska,  he  stated,  has issues  that  have                                                               
existed  for 20  years.   Mr. Metcalfe  related his  opinion that                                                               
rural Alaska has received the short  end of the stick in terms of                                                               
resources.   He further opined that  the state needs to  pay more                                                               
attention to  law enforcement in rural  Alaska, including placing                                                               
more  Alaska State  Troopers,  police  department officials,  and                                                               
certified  VPSOs in  rural  Alaska.   Although  VPSOs perform  an                                                               
outstanding  job in  terms  of [their  current  duties], he  said                                                               
there is  no reason the  state can't  take over VPSOs,  have them                                                               
work  for DPS,  and place  them  under the  same regulations  and                                                               
certification  requirements as  municipal and  state police.   He                                                               
pointed out  that court  service officers  are DPS  employees and                                                               
are  supervised by  Alaska State  Troopers;  these court  service                                                               
operators  receive  training  and  are  constantly  monitored  by                                                               
Alaska State Troopers.  Like  any issue in state government, it's                                                               
a matter of  the state's priority.  Mr. Metcalfe  opined that for                                                               
those in rural Alaska a priority  is to have good law enforcement                                                               
and  the best  way  to achieve  such is  to  have highly  trained                                                               
people, which can  include VPSOs.  Mr. Metcalfe  asked that VPSOs                                                               
be  trained and  fall under  the  same regulations  as state  and                                                               
local law  enforcement.   He emphasized  that [his  comments] are                                                               
not an attack  on HB 199 or  VPSOs, rather the desire  is to make                                                               
it better.                                                                                                                      
9:12:03 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  NAGEAK  noted  his  agreement  with  Mr.  Metcalfe  and                                                               
emphasized that it's  the responsibility of the  state to provide                                                               
public  safety  for  all  Alaskans,  particularly  for  those  in                                                               
unorganized  areas.    He suggested  that  the  committee  should                                                               
continue to discuss Mr. Metcalfe's comments.                                                                                    
9:14:46 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  LEDOUX asked  if VPSOs  were under  the purview  of the                                                               
state until about 10 years ago.                                                                                                 
MR. VRABEC  agreed it has been  some time [since VPSOs  have been                                                               
under the  purview of  the state] and  reiterated that  VPSOs are                                                               
not officially  state employees,  although they receive  over 600                                                               
hours of training at the DPS  Academy and oversight from DPS.  He                                                               
acknowledged Mr.  Metcalfe's suggestions  to extend  the training                                                               
of VPSOs  and make them employees  of the state and  offered that                                                               
considerable  time was  spent by  Mr. Masters  on those  matters.                                                               
The  VPSO  program, he  opined,  has  come  a  long way  and  can                                                               
continue to grow.                                                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE EDGMON,  in response  to Co-Chair  LeDoux, related                                                               
his understanding  that he didn't  recall VPSOs ever  being state                                                               
CAPTAIN  ARLOW, drawing  from his  history of  the VPSO  Program,                                                               
said that he  didn't recall seeing documentation  that VPSOs were                                                               
ever state employees.                                                                                                           
9:17:03 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  REINBOLD  surmised  that certification  of  VPSOs                                                               
would increase costs.  She  then highlighted the difficult budget                                                               
situation in which the state finds  itself and asked if this is a                                                               
cost effective way  in which to have a  sustainable public safety                                                               
presence in villages over the long term.                                                                                        
MR. VRABEC explained  that since VPSOs are already  in place now,                                                               
the proposal in HB 199  would provide their employers the ability                                                               
to provide  an extra tool  with minimal  cost.  With  a difficult                                                               
budget  situation, it's  not reasonable  to believe  30-50 Alaska                                                               
State Troopers  will be  funded.   The DPS is  willing to  try to                                                               
train VPSOs [in the use of firearms].                                                                                           
9:19:30 AM                                                                                                                    
JESS CARSON,  Sergeant, Special  Projects, Alaska  State Trooper,                                                               
Department of Public  Safety, related his belief  that when VPSOs                                                               
are provided  firearms, they  are being  made police  officers in                                                               
the  state.   Providing  VPSOs with  firearms  provides them  the                                                               
greatest responsibility  of police officers, the  ability to take                                                               
lives.   The testimony that VPSOs  go through the DPS  Academy is                                                               
not  entirely true  because  VPSOs  do not  go  through the  same                                                               
physical  and  mental  requirements.   Simply  providing  firearm                                                               
training  doesn't  make  VPSOs  police  officers  as  it  doesn't                                                               
provide the physical  capabilities to retain the  weapon and make                                                               
the proper  choice regarding  when and  when not  to shoot.   The                                                               
aforementioned  begins with  the officer  selection process  that                                                               
includes  background   checks,  polygraph   tests,  psychological                                                               
tests, and [interviews] with  experienced officers that determine                                                               
whether an  individual has  the mental  and physical  capacity to                                                               
make  the necessary  choices  and do  the job.    Only after  the                                                               
aforementioned can one  attend the DPS Academy, which  has a high                                                               
dropout  rate.   Once  one  completes  the  training at  the  DPS                                                               
Academy,  individuals   continue  training  during   which  other                                                               
officers and  supervisors observe  their every  move.   He agreed                                                               
with early statements  that the state is  becoming more dangerous                                                               
and consideration should be given  with regard to the environment                                                               
in which VPSOs  are working.  However, providing  VPSOs, a lesser                                                               
trained  individual,  a  firearm  is  problematic  as  it  places                                                               
Alaskans and  officers at  greater risk.   Situations  [that call                                                               
for  the use  of firearms]  should be  dealt with  by [certified]                                                               
police officers.  He recalled  the Regional Public Safety Officer                                                               
(RPSO)  program, which  placed certified  police officers  in the                                                               
villages and  that he  characterized as a  great idea.   Sergeant                                                               
Carson  emphasized  that  carrying  a  firearm  is  the  greatest                                                               
responsibility of law enforcement and  the fiscal note of $62,000                                                               
for HB 199 is a fraction of the cost if someone is wrongly shot.                                                                
9:24:35 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR NAGEAK inquired  as to whose responsibility  it would be                                                               
to get an individual who killed someone back on track.                                                                          
MR. VRABEC  said that  there would be  liability of  the employer                                                               
and it could extend to the state in terms of training.                                                                          
9:26:48 AM                                                                                                                    
ANNE SEARS,  Alaska State Trooper,  Department of  Public Safety,                                                               
began  by informing  the committee  that she  has been  an Alaska                                                               
State  Trooper  for 13  years.    With  regard to  training,  she                                                               
informed  the  committee  that  from  day  one  the  DPS  Academy                                                               
provides  daily training  on the  use  of force  continuum.   She                                                               
recalled her  own training  at the DPS  Academy, which  lasted 16                                                               
weeks  after which  she had  another 16  weeks of  field training                                                               
with experienced  Alaska State  Troopers and  certified officers.                                                               
Following  field  training,  she   worked  [as  an  Alaska  State                                                               
Trooper]  with the  benefit of  having  experienced Alaska  State                                                               
Troopers present for  five months.  Ms. Sears said  she still has                                                               
the  benefit of  working with  experienced Alaska  State Troopers                                                               
who went through the same training.   Ms. Sears then related that                                                               
she was  born and raised  in rural  Alaska and the  same problems                                                               
exist today  that did 20  years ago.   In fact, she  related that                                                               
her mother has  said that the same problems existed  when she was                                                               
growing up in rural Alaska in the 1940s.                                                                                        
9:29:38 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE REINBOLD  asked whether the suggestion  is to make                                                               
all VPSOs  Alaska State Troopers.   She  then inquired as  to the                                                               
average cost of the training provided  at the DPS Academy and the                                                               
average  20-year  salary  and benefit  package  of  Alaska  State                                                               
Troopers.   She further inquired  as to whether there  are proven                                                               
outcomes, such  as a decrease  in crime,  due to the  presence of                                                               
Alaska State Troopers.                                                                                                          
MR. VRABEC answered that whether  an Alaska State Trooper or VPSO                                                               
is present,  there has  been success in  terms of  reduced crime.                                                               
The cost  difference between VPSOs  and Alaska State  Troopers is                                                               
considerable.     He  noted  that   not  all   police  department                                                               
[officers]  are trained  through the  DPS Academy  and the  field                                                               
training will vary.  As  evidenced by the testimony, Alaska State                                                               
Troopers  receive extensive  training.   He acknowledged  that if                                                               
HB 199 passes,  training issues and  differences will have  to be                                                               
reviewed.  The  existing VPSO Academy consists  of 600-plus hours                                                               
of  training while  the  DPS Academy  for  Alaska State  Troopers                                                               
consists  of 900  hours of  training.   He  clarified that  VPSOs                                                               
don't respond to  everything, which is why  Alaska State Troopers                                                               
are asked  to respond to  serious incidents and will  continue to                                                               
be  the case  [even with  the  passage of  HB 199].   Still,  Mr.                                                               
Vrabec opined  that the VPSO  Program is very important  in rural                                                               
9:32:22 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  REINBOLD  inquired  as to  the  price  difference                                                               
between a 20-year VPSO and a 20-year Alaska State Trooper.                                                                      
MR. VRABEC answered that the  difference would be considerable as                                                               
they  are  two  different  positions.    He  estimated  that  the                                                               
difference would amount  to $100,000s per officer  over a 20-year                                                               
9:33:08 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE REINBOLD  questioned then  whether it's  better to                                                               
place some [level]  of [sustainable] public safety  in [the rural                                                               
areas] and coordinate that public safety.                                                                                       
MR. VRABEC  pointed out  that there  are weather  challenges that                                                               
can  prohibit  Alaska State  Troopers  from  being in  a  village                                                               
exactly  when  needed.    The  Alaska  State  Troopers  can't  be                                                               
everywhere all the time, he stated.                                                                                             
9:33:57 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX posed  a scenario in which  Alaska State Troopers                                                               
were  placed  in all  villages,  and  asked whether  the  current                                                               
hiring  policies for  Alaska State  Troopers  allow selection  of                                                               
troopers to come  from within the particular village  in which he                                                               
or she  would serve.  She  explained that when she  represented a                                                               
rural area, she  found that VPSOs from the village  in which they                                                               
serve  are  more  successful  than   those  VPSOs  who  are  from                                                               
MR. VRABEC  agreed that there  are villages who love  their VPSOs                                                               
because of who they  are and the same can be  said of some Alaska                                                               
State Troopers.                                                                                                                 
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX clarified that her  question is whether there are                                                               
seniority rules that allow Alaska  State Troopers to select posts                                                               
and preclude villages from selecting their own troopers.                                                                        
MR. VRABEC answered  that the placement of  Alaska State Troopers                                                               
will be controlled by DPS through a bidding process with PSEA.                                                                  
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX  surmised then that  the process would take  it a                                                               
bit out of local control.                                                                                                       
MR. VRABEC replied yes.                                                                                                         
9:36:56 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  NAGEAK  returned   to  the  fact  that   the  state  is                                                               
responsible  for public  safety, yet  in the  villages nonprofits                                                               
are taking  the responsibility  of public  safety with  no power,                                                               
resources,  and  a  lower  level   of  training.    The  proposed                                                               
legislation merely  provides firearm  training to allow  VPSOs to                                                               
carry a firearm, which is a large responsibility.                                                                               
MR.  VRABEC  clarified  that  by  statute  DPS  is  charged  with                                                               
providing  public  safety throughout  the  state.   However,  the                                                               
level of  service desired  by the villages  or cities  drives the                                                               
type and  size of  law enforcement.   With  regard to  VPSOs, Mr.                                                               
Vrabec reiterated that the VPSO Program is a valued program.                                                                    
9:42:01 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR LEDOUX, upon determining no  one else wished to testify,                                                               
closed public testimony.                                                                                                        
9:42:15 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE   HERRON  noted   his   appreciation  of   today's                                                               
testimony.    He  reminded the  committee  that  the  legislature                                                               
represents  the unorganized  boroughs, and  thus the  legislature                                                               
must provide public safety to  those areas that cannot afford it.                                                               
Therefore,  the  question,  as  it  was  posed  by  Mr.  Metcalfe                                                               
earlier, is whether  the legislature wants to  have public safety                                                               
throughout the state.                                                                                                           
9:43:54 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  NAGEAK said  his answer  is  yes, he  wants his  people                                                               
protected and to have the  best available.  He acknowledged, from                                                               
his time as  the mayor of the North Slope  Borough, that it costs                                                               
a  lot  [to   provide  protection  for  people].     However,  he                                                               
questioned what it  will cost not to have [public  safety] in the                                                               
villages.  Co-Chair  Nageak opined that [the  villages] need some                                                               
sort of [certified] police officers.                                                                                            
9:46:06 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE FOSTER commented that  until more resources can be                                                               
provided to rural Alaska to  provide the same level of protection                                                               
in rural Alaska, HB  199 is a step in the  right direction.  This                                                               
legislation, he further commented, is  something that can be done                                                               
now with minimal resources.                                                                                                     
9:46:44 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  LEDOUX  announced  her  intention to  hold  HB  199  to                                                               
consider today's  testimony and  comments.  She  then highlighted                                                               
how  integral  firearms are  in  villages  and pointed  out  that                                                               
without  this legislation,  VPSOs may  be  the only  ones in  the                                                               
village who are not armed.                                                                                                      

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
HB 199 ver U.pdf HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 2/4/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 199
HB 199 Sponsor Statement.pdf HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 2/4/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 199
HB 199 DPS Draft Revised VPSO Regs.pdf HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 199
HB199 fiscal Note DPS.pdf HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 2/4/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 199
HB 199 Informational Meeting Summary 9 26 2013.pdf HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 2/4/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 199
HB 199 Information Hearing Supporting Documents.pdf HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 2/4/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 199
HB 199 Supporting Document ADN Article.pdf HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 2/4/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 199
HB 199 Supporting Document ADN Editor Letter.pdf HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 2/4/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 199
HB 199 Supporting Document Alaska Dispatch.pdf HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 2/4/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 199
HB 199 Supporting Document Letter Robert Claus.pdf HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 2/4/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 199
HB 199 Supporting Document Letters.pdf HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 2/4/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 199
HB 199 Supporting Document McCarthy Letter.pdf HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 2/4/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 199
CSHB 181 ver U.pdf HCRA 4/9/2013 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 181
HB 181 ver A.pdf HCRA 4/9/2013 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 181
HB 181 Sponsor Statement.pdf HCRA 4/9/2013 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 181
HB181-DNR-MLW-4-6-13.pdf HCRA 4/9/2013 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 181
HB181-DOR-TAX-04-05-13.pdf HCRA 4/9/2013 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 181
HB181-DOR-TRS-04-05-13.pdf HCRA 4/9/2013 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 181
HB181-DCCED-DCRA-04-04-13.pdf HCRA 4/9/2013 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 181
HB 181 leg research applicability.pdf HCRA 4/9/2013 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 181
HB 181 Supporting Documents legal service memo.pdf HCRA 4/9/2013 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 181
HB 181 Support East West Nome Beach Public Mining Area R (3) (1).pdf HCRA 4/9/2013 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 181
HB 181 Supporting Documents Nome Mining Map.pdf HCRA 4/9/2013 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 181
HB 181 Supporting Documents Nome Offshore Lease Tract Map (March 2012).pdf HCRA 4/9/2013 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 181
HB 181 Supporting Documents Nome Vessel Calls Chart at 11 06 12 edited.pdf HCRA 4/9/2013 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 181
HB 181 Supporting Documents Nome Vessel Stats Spread at 11 06 12.pdf HCRA 4/9/2013 8:00:00 AM
HCRA 1/28/2014 8:00:00 AM
HB 181