When Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy and Department of Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price took the stage at the Alaska Federation of Natives’ annual convention earlier this month, they pledged their dedication to public safety and promised to fund Village Public Safety Officers.
“If there are recruits for the VPSO programs,” the governor said, “we will provide the funding to support those positions.”
The key word in his promise, it turns out, is “if.”
IF you can find the recruits, then the state will fund them.
People familiar with the VPSO program told us that the promise rang hollow because the state has seemingly done all it can to get in the way of recruitment of the officers, which is already an uphill challenge with remote locations, travel restrictions and limited housing.
It’s easy to promise to fund VPSO officers on the one hand, our sources explained, when the state’s undermining efforts to recruit officers with the other hand.
A new report by the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica brings this issue into clear focus, highlighting how the Dunleavy administration has rejected the vast majority of requests from VPSO employers to recruit and retain officers.
This year, the administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, has used job vacancies as justification to deny certain requests for VPSO funding and to cut the allotment in the state budget. Dunleavy and his public safety commissioner, Amanda Price, said that the money wasn’t going to be spent anyway and that the cuts caused no harm to the dwindling VPSO force.
But the state also denied requests to pay for VPSO recruitment advertising and for equipment such as fingerprint scanners, evidence lockers and anti-suicide blankets designed so they cannot be rolled into a noose, according to a Daily News and ProPublica review of state Department of Public Safety contracts.
Of the $55,775 that VPSO employers requested for recruitment and advertising to attract new candidates, the Department of Public Safety denied all but $15,775. The Northwest Arctic Borough, which serves 10 Inupiaq villages, has no VPSOs and asked for $1,000 in monthly recruitment funding. The state OK’d $200.
The requests were in the thousands of dollars according to documents requested by Hopkins, covering things like fuel, travel, fingerprint scanners and anti-suicide blankets.
Dunleavy was asked about this when he walked off the stage at AFN and said his administration shouldn’t be judged about what it’s already done. But his answer contains the same caveat that made his on-stage promise fall on skeptical ears.
“All I can answer is what we’ll be doing forward,” he said. “We’re going to be funding all the positions and the recruits that the nonprofits are able to find.”
Why it matters
Alaska Native legislators have regularly raised concerns about how the Dunleavy administration is handling public safety in rural Alaska (though many note that the problems have existed before the Republican took office) and have sparred with the administration, primarily in the House’s Tribal Affairs Committee.
The relatively small amount of money in question, $55,000 statewide, is not likely to sit well with legislators.
Recall that the governor’s office has spent at least $32,672 on Facebook ads, including $222 to support Price’s confirmation, $700 to blast the striking ferry workers and a whopping $18,902 to “Restore the PFD.”