Six months after her husband was lost in the line of duty, Luan Madole is still grieving. Thomas Madole, 54, was shot to death while patrolling his village of Manokotak on March 19.
"Sometimes the smallest things trigger the tears, and I have no control over it,” Madole told a group of lawmakers over the phone Thursday. “I realize my life will never be normal again.”
Madole was among several people testifying to the panel about allowing Village Public Safety Officers to carry service pistols. Representative Bryce Edgmon's (D-Dillingham) bill would give village councils and native associations that hire VPSOs the option to arm them.
"My hope is that this bill, when we get down to Juneau at the start of the session, gets right into committee and gets heard immediately, and starts moving its way through the process," Edgmon said.
The VPSO program originated in the late 70s when officers acted as first responders to boating and hunting related accidents. Department of Public Safety Commissioner Joe Masters says VPSOs have evolved into rural police officers, and find themselves in situations where they're responding to incidents of domestic violence many times without backup.
Village leaders say outside influences such as drugs have fueled the violence against law enforcement.
“We're seeing an increase in more and more serious drugs,” said Bristol Bay Native Association CEO Ralph Andersen. “We're seeing methamphetamine come into our region and we're seeing heroine come into our region."
BBNA employs 14 VPSOs who cover half of the communities in the Bristol Bay region.
In villages such as Manokotak, VPSO's are more than just law enforcement officers. They provide guidance and support for the community's young people and to this day Madole's loss is still being felt in Manokotak.
"The community and children were in pain, we and the children are still healing," said Manokotak Mayor Moses Toyukak.
Toyukak and Andersen say they both support HB 199, along with the officials from the Tlingit and Haida Tribal Councils.
27 September 2013
More on Arming Village Public Safety Officers
From KTUU in Anchorage: