Village bound

Tribal Peace Officers will travel to Interior villages to help communities enforce tribal laws and codes. In a similar initiative, Village Public Safety Officers often get to the villages by boats.

To help remote Interior villages keep their communities safe, Tanana Chiefs Conference is hiring officers to enforce tribal laws and codes in a holistic manner.

“A tribal peace officer is not really a police officer,” said Darrell Hildebrand, public safety manager at TCC. “We’re going to use a more holistic approach to law enforcement utilizing tribal codes, their own laws, their own style of community policing.”

The program came about during the Covid-19 pandemic when tribes needed to protect elders and the young from the Covid-19 virus. TCC wanted to create a Covid task force “to help tribes deal with folks coming in for hunting and fishing in the villages,” but after further thought, they decided to build a program that can also help tribes enforce their codes.

The vision is providing public safety through public service and tribal alignment, with peace officers partnering with tribes and enforcing tribal laws, as long as they are not in conflict with state or federal laws.

“We didn’t want our officers to be viewed as a threat,” Hildebrand said. “We want them to be there for the community.”

The program received several grants, including a five-year grant of $630,000 from the Department of Justice and a $530,000 grant from the TCC executive board.

Three officer positions are open within the program, aimed for people who are familiar with rural Native traditions and lifestyles and have public safety-related training or experience.

However, while both the money and the program are there, hiring has been slow, which might be a part of a nationwide problem.

“Right now no one wants to be in law enforcement, so it’s hard to recruit for those positions in the TPO program,” Hildebrand explained.

As soon as the hiring starts moving, the program is ready to go. The officers will have a hub in Fairbanks and will travel to the villages as needed.

“It made sense to have them in Fairbanks, in a hub, from where we can get them out,” Hildebrand said. “But we’re not serving Fairbanks. We’re serving the tribes.”

The hope is to start engaging with the tribes more as the program develops.

“We’re really looking forward to getting this program going and off the ground,” Hildebrand said. “Once we hire someone, I think it’s going to take off — once the tribes realize how helpful this person will be to their communities.”

Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at (907) 459-7587 or at anaiden@newsminer.com. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.

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