Delegates voted public safety as their top priority at the 2016 Association of Village Council Presidents' annual convention. A year later, at the 2017 convention, they’ve learned that the number of Village Public Safety Officers, or VPSO’s, has declined. Now the Native nonprofit is appealing to communities for help.
A few months ago, there were 10 VPSOs in the region. Now there are eight. One is based in Bethel and travels to communities as needed. The rest live and work in specific villages.
Alvin Jimmie Sr. runs the VPSO program for AVCP. He says that right now, the biggest barrier for applicants is a qualification involving officers not having used drugs.
“He or she should not have consumed or used marijuana within a year,” said Jimmie.
The state sets the hiring standards and funds the positions. Criminal history is another barrier that can disqualify an applicant.
“No felonies, period. You can’t have two or more DUI’s, no misdemeanor convictions within five years, [and] no misdemeanor convictions domestic violence related within 10 years,” Jimmie explained.
The decline in officers is part of a larger trend. A decade ago, there were 30 VPSO's in the region. Now the numbers are a quarter of what they were, and Jimmie would like to be hiring.
The job is stressful and often involves handling criminal situations involving friends and family members.
The decline in officers isn’t limited to the YK Delta. Jimmie has seen every region experience a similar drop. The state’s hiring website shows dozens of open positions across the state.
AVCP currently has funding for 10 VPSOs but says it can request money for as many officers as the nonprofit can hire.
“If we had 20 qualified applicants, we would push for 20 VPSO positions,” said AVCP Program Administrator Martha Whitman-Kassock.
To get there, AVCP is turning to the communities for help in recruiting.
“They know the strengths and weaknesses of their members," said Whitman-Kassock. "They know who has the difficulties, who has the strong family support, who has no barrier crimes, and if they can identify those applicants that might have a passion to be a VPSO and push them in that direction, that would really help our program.”
The AVCP annual convention continues through Thursday at the Bethel Cultural Center.