Lawmaker calls for audit of Alaska village officer program

    JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska lawmaker is calling for an audit of the state-funded Village Public Safety Officer program, which sends officers to rural communities to bolster emergency services.

    State Rep. Dan Saddler sent the Legislature the audit request, Alaska Public Media reported ( ) Wednesday. Saddler wants more information on why positions in the program are unfilled and is concerned about the share of program spending that goes into indirect costs like housing, he said.

    "I thought it was important to get some better answers, to find out how we can find some efficiencies and savings, and make our public safety dollars go farther in rural Alaska," Saddler said.

    The program was created in 1979 and works with nonprofit Alaska Native organizations. The officers planted into the communities are often the first responders to emergencies.

    The program has seen a decrease in funding, along with the rest of state government in the last three years. The number of program officers has dropped from 92 in July 2014 to 53 this January.

    Capt. Andrew Merrill, the program's commander, said the state officers in rural communities are an integral part of public safety.  "VPSOs work hand-in-hand with troopers in the field," Merrill said. Saddler, however, is looking for an outside perspective on the program. He requested the audit through the Legislature's Legislative Budget and Audit Committee.

    The committee could decide whether to order an audit at its next meeting, which is expected to be in early November. But the audit could start as late as 18 months from now since officials have several other audits to complete first.

    In addition to determining whether VPSO grants have been administered in a fiscally prudent manner, Saddler also is asking the auditors to evaluate the program's effectiveness — and if VPSOs could be funded with federal grants.

    "There is a real need for public safety in rural Alaska," Saddler said. "We had decided on the VPSO model. And I think that, in a time of limited financial means, if we spend that money effectively, there's no reason why we could not even use the same amount of money to get more safety results."


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