Lawmakers consider giving guns to village public safety officers
by Casey Grove
A Village Public Safety Officer killed in the line of duty this March in the Southwest village of Manokotak might not have died if Alaska law had allowed him to carry a firearm to protect himself like just about everyone else in the state, his widow said at a recent legislative hearing in Anchorage.
Luan Madole's testimony at Thursday's hearing -- which included a voicing of support from the commissioner of public safety as well as a former commissioner -- was perhaps the most compelling so far in the ongoing debate about arming some 120 VPSOs flung across the state. On March 19, Madole lost her husband of more than 30 years, Thomas Madole, when a reportedly suicidal man shot the VPSO, who was running for cover, according to the charges.
With draft legislation to allow local governments the option to arm VPSOs already written, little opposition has arisen to the idea so far. But lawmakers are still collecting information on what the proposal would mean and what it would cost, in terms of equipment and training, to put guns in the hands of the officers and allowing them to make life-or-death decisions.
VPSO's responsibilities increase
VPSOs are paid for through state grants to nonprofit regional corporations or municipalities, which employ the officers, and they are trained and given the authority of a police officer by the state Department of Public Safety. Unlike Village Police Officers -- hired, trained and authorized by local governments -- the state officers are not allowed to carry guns. Using lethal force was not included in the job description when the VPSO program began.
Public Safety Commissioner Joe Masters, who started his career in law enforcement as a VPSO, told legislators the responsibility of the officers has expanded since the program's beginning in the late 1970s. At first, Masters said, VPSOs dealt with general public safety concerns: fires, boating safety, basic medical assistance. But their law enforcement role has grown over the years, Masters said.
And attacks on all law enforcement officers seem to be on the upswing, Masters said. While training for the most-tense situations has evolved, those sworn to protect the villages “just don't have the tools" they need, he added.
Masters said the 10-week academy would need to add three to five days of extra firearms training. Equipment and liability insurance costs would go up, he said, but the thought is not to arm all of the VPSOs at once.
“This is the route I think we need to go,” Masters said. “I think it's time.”
Walt Monegan, former Public Safety commissioner and current director of the Alaska Native Justice Center, said training for officers on their own in the villages would be key to successfully introducing firearms.
“As an Anchorage police officer, I was spoiled because if there was some big guy that wanted to rearrange me somehow, I could just get on the radio and say, 'Hey, send me a lot of guys who look like me,'” Monegan said.
VPSOs do not have that kind of support, something Monegan said he respected. They would have to know what to do alone in similar confrontations, he said.
“Overall, certainly I think it'll be up to the communities, but giving them this option is certainly empowering,” Monegan said. “But for the long-term health, the more we can do to empower those communities, the better they will be and the safer they will be. And this is certainly a piece."
Concerns about officer-involved shootings may arise
Giving VPSOs guns will not solve all their problems, some at the hearing warned. Ralph Andersen, Bristol Bay Native Association CEO, said hard drugs are still making their way into villages. Outside influences like that can't be forgotten, Andersen said.
Concerns about officer-involved shootings may come up when the bills are actually before the Legislature, Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, said in a later phone interview. It would be ideal to have a fully-trained Alaska State Trooper in every community if the state could afford it, Josephson said, likening the state's funding of public safety in rural communities to the debate about whether rural schools get enough money.
“Some of this is like, well, out of sight out of mind. And what happens is crises happen in the Bush (and) have to be responded to, rather than having somebody tamp down situations before they arise or become worse,” Josephson said. “It's money, and it's public employees, and some people don't like public employees.”
But giving the VPSOs the ability to carry firearms is a “no-brainer,” said Josephson, who expects a bill to pass.
It cannot happen soon enough, Luan Madole said. The officers' lives are important enough, she said, to change an outdated law that makes them just about the only Alaskans restricted from carrying firearms, aside from felons, drunks and juveniles.
“This was an advantage to every person in Manokotak and a real disadvantage to Tom. Every call, he wondered if it would be his last. He went to protect a village that did not give him the option to let him protect himself.”
“I have to be Tom's voice,” Luan said. “There has to be a change before this happens to another family."
Franklin & Marshall considers arming public safety officers
by PAULA WOLF
With the growing prevalence of mass shootings in this country, Franklin & Marshall College is considering arming its public safety officers.
College officials have exhaustively researched the subject and will seek campus, community and law enforcement input before the board of trustees likely makes a final decision in February 2014.
Open forums on the topic for F&M students will be conducted Oct. 7 and 9 on campus, led by Dean of the College Margaret Hazlett.
"This is the beginning of a conversation," said Cass Cliatt, F&M's vice president of communications.
And it's the kind of conversation many other institutions are having, she said.
Over the next five months, the college looks forward to hearing a variety of viewpoints, Cliatt said.
F&M employs 19 full-time sworn officers in its Department of Public Safety, as well as four full-time security officers, said Director of Public Safety Bill McHale.
The sworn officers — the ones who would be armed — have completed the same basic training as municipal police officers and possess the authority to make arrests, he said.
In the past seven years, the college made a concerted effort to professionalize its safety functions, said McHale, a 28 1/2-year veteran of the Pennsylvania State Police who was director of the bureau of emergency and special operations.
F&M's public safety department maintains the same standards "as any municipality in the state," he said.
In the commonwealth, Franklin & Marshall is one of only five police departments at higher education institutions to be accredited by the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission of the state Chiefs of Police Association.
The department covers more than 200 acres — encompassing four campuses and the Spalding Conservancy/old brickyard — in Lancaster city and Manheim Township.
It also patrols Buchanan Park's 20 acres and other parcels, as well as some neighborhoods in the city's northwest quadrant. Officers — who pound their beat on foot, on bikes and in patrol cars — go as far as the 200 block of North Charlotte Street, where there's an F&M fraternity house, McHale said.
A paper prepared by the college notes that "F&M's urban location, its open campus bordering a public park, its multiple access points, and the daily presence of more than 3,000 students, employees and visitors are contributing factors to the potential for dangerous situations occurring on or near the F&M campus."
McHale said arming the sworn officers would mean "a much quicker response time" if there's an incident, such as an active shooter.
Also, "we know our campus," which gives officers an advantage, he said.
Currently, the protocol is to call in municipal police and await their arrival, monitoring the situation at a safe distance.
McHale said the Department of Public Safety has a working relationship with the Lancaster and Manheim Township police departments and a memorandum of understanding with city police. It's in the process of developing such a document with Manheim Township police, he said.
Many of F&M's sworn officers are already used to carrying firearms because they're experienced in municipal policing, McHale said.
Police chief approves
Keith Sadler, chief of the Lancaster City Bureau of Police, is on board with the idea of arming F&M's sworn officers.
"It enhances overall public safety" on the campus and Lancaster city, said Sadler, who's also looking at the issue as the father of a college student.
"You need to be capable of addressing these types of threats immediately," he said.
Sadler also noted that Franklin & Marshall "has a very professional public safety department" under McHale's direction and that there's a "great rapport" between F&M and the city police.
When asked who might oppose the choice to arm, McHale said some people may be uncomfortable with the "visual aspect" of public safety officers carrying weapons.
Cliatt suggested others may voice philosophical objections.
The college encourages public input. Individuals can express their opinions online at fandm.edu/arming . Click on the "submit feedback" link on the left side.
Comments, which may be submitted anonymously, go directly to David Proulx, the college's vice president for finance and administration, Cliatt said.
Elsewhere in Lancaster County, Millersville University has armed its sworn officers since 1987, said Director of Communications Janet Kacskos.
Leo Sokoloski, director of campus security at Elizabethtown College, said in an emailed statement: "We are a non-sworn professional security department. There has not been any discussion about arming our officers."
At Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, security is contracted out to a company and the officers are unarmed, said Chad Baker, director of marketing and public information.
F&M also researched other institutions and found that most of the top 50 liberal arts colleges don't have sworn police officers.
But the vast majority of those that do also arm those officers.
In Central Pennsylvania, colleges including York, Muhlenberg, Moravian and Dickinson are among those with armed officers, while Gettysburg College is not.
Franklin & Marshall estimates that start-up costs for arming officers will be $70,000 to $80,000, including equipment, training, maintenance supplies and storage. Ongoing costs would be approximately $10,000 annually.
Lancaster attorney Soren West, who lives near F&M, said he despises guns.
But he understands the arguments in favor of arming sworn public safety officers.
"You have no idea," he said, "what kind of madman you might be facing."
Somerset gets a close look at public safety gear
by Brian Fraga
SOMERSET — Being doused in the face with pepper spray and then hit with a Taser is not exactly everyone's idea of a good time.
But Richard Bloom, 30, a reserve Somerset police officer, laughed after demonstrating the weapons' effects for audiences at Saturday's Public Safety Day in Somerset.
“I knew it was going to be really hard. Now, I know I'd rather be Tased than pepper-sprayed. In five seconds it's over,” Bloom said, adding that it took him about 30 minutes to recover from the pepper spray.
“He's got a nice glow to him, doesn't he?” Somerset Police Sgt. Todd Costa joked while Bloom and other police officers mingled with civilians eating hamburgers and checking out the police cruisers on display.
More than 1,000 people visited the Somerset Public Safety Complex on County Street for the ninth annual Public Safety Day, an event intended to develop relationships between the public and the various local and state public safety agencies, including the Somerset Police and Fire Departments, and the Massachusetts State Police.
“Police work is all about community involvement. We have to be integrated into the community in order to be successful,” Somerset Police Chief Joseph Ferreira said.
Costa agreed, adding that the event is meant to make residents feel comfortable enough with police officers so they can reach out to the police when problems occur in their neighborhoods.
“We are dedicated to community policing, being proactive and facing problems before they start,” Costa said. “You need to know the community in order to do that.”
Police cruisers and fire trucks were on display for the public. Most young children seemed to really enjoy the opportunity to use a real fire hose to spray water.
“Kids getting to spray the fire hose? How cool is that?” said Richard Aguiar, of Westport, who attended the event with Jakobe, his 5-year-old son who said the fire hose was his favorite thing.
“Like a little firefighter, you know?” Aguiar said.
Other displays included an armed personnel carrier from the Massachusetts State Police and a Massachusetts Environmental Police vehicle and table with animal pelts. The Fall River Fire Department, Swansea EMS and the Bristol County Sheriff's Office were among other visible public safety agencies.
The event also featured K-9 demonstrations and defensive tactic demonstrations, as well as face-painting, crafts and games for children. Music and food — much of it donated from residents and area businesses — helped the event draw in many visitors.
From the Department of Justice
The Third Annual Summit on Preventing Youth Violence
September 27th, 2013
For the past two days an extraordinary group of people gathered to understand and to develop strategies to address a serious and complicated problem: the surge in violence committed by and – perhaps more troubling – against our young people.
The impact of this violence is greater than it appears on the surface. We can see the immediate physical damage it does, and we know it causes emotional trauma in the kids it touches. But we don't always appreciate the full toll it takes on a child's body and mind and on the families and communities he or she belongs to. A growing body of research in developmental psychology and neuroscience is showing us that trauma does great harm to the brain and can have life-long consequences. But there is good news, too. Just as research is showing us the extent of the negative effects of violence, it is also shedding new light on what we can do to counter those effects.
Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Munoz stressed the Administration's commitment to this crucial issue as they opened the third annual Summit on Preventing Youth Violence, where mayors, police chiefs and youth from 10 cities shared their strategies to reduce violence and gang activity and mitigate its impact on our children.
Thursday morning, youth leaders told participants what they are doing in their communities to ensure brighter futures for themselves and their peers. The youth were from Chicago, Memphis, Tenn., New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Salinas and San Jose, Calif., the communities involved in the Administration's violence prevention initiatives, including the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, Defending Childhood, Community-Based Violence Prevention and Striving To Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere (STRYVE).
Later, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary led mayors and other city leaders from Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Salinas and San Jose in a discussion about putting and keeping in place a comprehensive plan to address youth violence. The officials described how they align this work with other federal initiatives and how federal efforts are helping them achieve success and confront remaining challenges.
No discussion of a public safety issue can take place without considering the role of the media. What makes the news? What are people talking about on television and in print and social media? Why does it matter? A panel of journalists and youth leaders tackled these questions and more as they discussed how media coverage of youth violence affects the community's response – and how the media can be utilized to build support for prevention and promote positive social change in a community.
Other workshops and panels during the two-day meeting addressed such issues as faith-based and law enforcement partnerships, street outreach programs like Cure Violence and CeaseFire, the essential need for public/private partnerships and more. Near the end of the summit, an interactive panel discussion helped participants understand trauma's impact on child and adolescent development. A trauma-informed approach to violence holds tremendous promise because it focuses our collective efforts on a major root cause of violence and clearly outlines when and how we can respond to get young people off the path of poor choices and self-destructive behaviors.
The exhaustive examination of the problem of youth violence from so many angles left all participants with a renewed sense of purpose, and belief that, collectively, we are on the right path towards removing this social scourge from our communities.
The author is the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs of the Department of Justice