Southeast VPSOs tackle more than law enforcement

Tlingit-Haida Central Council's VPSO coordinator Jason Wilson (bottom row, left) sits with the seven VPSOs serving Southeast Alaska after a ceremony held in Juneau Monday. VPSO of the Year Zach West holds his award. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Tlingit-Haida Central Council’s VPSO coordinator Jason Wilson (bottom row, left) sits with the seven VPSOs serving Southeast Alaska after a ceremony held in Juneau Monday. VPSO of the Year Zach West holds his award. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Village Public Safety Officer Zach West is the Tlingit-Haida Central Council VPSO of the Year. West serves Kasaan, a village of around 50, on Prince of Wales Island.

During a ceremony in Juneau Monday, Central Council’s VPSO coordinator Jason Wilson said it was hard to choose out of the seven dedicated officers serving Southeast Alaska villages — Elfin Cove, Hydaburg, Kake, Pelican, Saxman and Thorne Bay.

He said West stood out on two occasions. One involved juveniles drinking.

“When they got there, all were passed out, and one was passed out in the back of a vehicle in his own vomit unresponsive. But because of Mr. West’s quick actions clearing the airway and getting him breathing and getting him to EMS, this person has an opportunity to live another day,” said Wilson.

He said during another time West was asked to direct traffic in Hydaburg for a totem pole raising ceremony. Instead, West helped carry the totem pole.

“On the surface that might seem like a pretty simple thing, but in reality it’s not. That’s a person being a part of a community. That’s a person that’s getting involved. And that’s what we ask our VPSOs to do and that’s a big deal,” Wilson said.

West has been a VPSO in Kasaan for two and a half years. He calls it a balancing act.

“It’s a great mix of public services and it’s not just one thing. You get to wear different hats. You get to do law enforcement and serve that way. And then the next day you can go do fire training,” West says.

He says law enforcement is only 20 percent of his VPSO duties. West is also Kasaan’s EMS manager and fire chief.

Around Southeast, VPSOs take on a myriad of duties including animal control, oil spill response, suicide prevention, water safety, mental health counseling and drug prevention.