The effort to allow VPSOs to carry guns cleared a major hurdle this week when the Alaska House unanimously passed the bill that does just that.
The decision is in the hands of legislators in Juneau now, and while the bill passed the 38-0, the issue on the ground is more nuanced. Several Y-K Delta VPSOs were in Bethel for training last week and spoke to KYUK about the prospect of being armed.
Jacob Tobeluck is from Nunapitchak and is an eight-year veteran of the VPSOs. He said he initially had mixed feelings about being armed, and that’s because many of the people he meets in his job are people he’s known for years.
“In the back of your head, you think, if you carry a firearm, how is this person going to react, this person you’ve dealt with for so many years. Going to a call where guns involved and having someone else point a firearm at you, for a lack of better words, it freaks you out and you realize how quick things can go bad,” said Tobeluck.
Sergeant Jonathan Otto has been a VPSO in Kongiganak for 20 years. He says conversations with community members have largely been in favor of arming. And that’s critical, because communities will have some say in whether their VPSO is armed.
“I’ve been told by some people it’s about time you guys are getting armed, all the young people are getting aggressive, we should be able to go home to our own families instead of just being killed,” said Otto.
Two officers have been killed in the line of duty, the most recent being Manokotak’s Thomas Madole. That’s what spurred the most recent legislative push. That law would require some level of training standards. Otto says part of that training came very early for most VPSOs.
“Most of the people in the rural villages have been taught to hunt with a long rifle, most of them have been told about not pointing a gun to anybody, we’ve been told since we were kids when our dads taught us how to use a gun,” said Otto.
Tobeluck says it is ultimately is a matter of officer safety. He says guns are part of the lifestyle in his community. Having a VPSO armed just makes sense.
“I don’t care if it’s shack, they’ll find a gun. You’ll see kids walking around holding guns, going out hunting. It’s a common thing in the villages. For a VPSO to carry a sidearm I don’t think it will be anything new. A trooper comes out with a sidearm, a kid looks at his sidearm and walks away. It’s going to be nothing new,” said Tobeluck.
The bill to allow arming VPSOs now goes to the Alaska Senate. If passed, the bill would go to the governor’s desk for signature.