09 March 2007

Passing the buck

Freshman Senator Bill Wielechowski is asking the governor to do something (what exactly is unclear) about all the vacant Village Public Safety Officer positions out there:

Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D – Anchorage) today called on the Palin administration to take quick action to develop a plan to increase the number of Alaska State Troopers and Village Public Safety Officers in Alaska. During a Senate Finance Subcommittee meeting on Public Safety, members of the administration described severe staffing shortages within the Alaska State Troopers and Village Public Safety Officer program. 31 VPSO positions are vacant and 52 authorized trooper positions are vacant, despite the fact the Legislature has funded these positions. Meanwhile, virtually all the trooper command positions are staffed.
What is so ironic (it'd be funny if the results of an under-staffed VPSO force weren't so tragic) about the current state of the VPSO program is that everyone can identify the program isn't working but no one seems to come up with the political courage to implement the necessary solutions.

A couple weeks back at a committee hearing, Walt Monegan said he wanted to have a "summit" on the program, you know, bring all the important people together and talk about the issues. That's great, but the Senate established a taskforce with a similar purpose last year and that has apparently gone nowhere, even though its report was due by January.

Here's what I bet the governor is going to do in response to Senator Wielechowski's demand: establish a committee to look into the issue and report back. And here's what that committee will say - there's huge trouble recruiting and retaining VPSOs because of the long hours, the stressful job with little support, and the lack of weapons training and there should be some sort of tiered program that might let VPSOs move into the ranks of police officers or State Troopers. Then that report will gather dust for a while until someone issues another press release asking somebody else to address the "crisis" in the program.

It's not like Governor Palin can snap her fingers and fill all the empty positions out there. There's systemic difficulties here - that have been identified by people who deal with rural public safety issues all the time - that need to be addressed. Rather than taking the opportunity to criticize the governor, perhaps Senator Wielechowski could have spent some time bringing about that systemic change.

1 comment:

FirstAlaskanman said...

Mr. Wielechowski is starting to sound self serving. To me, it’s an obscene stance considering this has been a thorny issue here in rural Alaska for at least 20 years.
The State Constable system was a great idea: from the onset, the Constables ended up being gofers for the Alaska State Troopers. Rather then AST overreach, having its own organization hierarchical system would have made it work. As one who was there during the inception to implementation, and finally to the assimilation, it was a crying shame to see the “First Responders”, being misappropriated as lackeys. It sounds harsh, yet it isn’t intended; where the Constables were heavily cross trained in fire/medic/law/S and Rescue, the AST only had to deal with criminal law. Yet if I was a Constable and needed back up, the only folks I could call to help me is AST. So, if they give me a ream of paperwork, or want me to go interview folks on their behalf, I will drop everything to appease them. There is no question they are my supervisors. Long story short, it worked out so well for AST that they ultimately assimilated the Constabulary into their ranks.