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Begich Pushes for New Tribal Public Safety Measures

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Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act Supported by AFN

With a goal of creating safer communities across rural Alaska, U.S. Sen Mark Begich today reintroduced the Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act. The legislation aims to improve public safety in Alaska's most remote communities by providing funding for up to nine Alaska Native tribes to participate in demonstration projects which allow the tribes to establish tribal ordinances, create or strengthen tribal courts and impose sanctions on violators.

Many of Alaska's rural villages often lack a round-the-clock presence of Alaska State Troopers and/or Village Public Safety Officers (VPSO), resulting in slow response times due to law enforcement based at distant hubs. The Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act would empower tribes and local leadership in rural villages with the tools necessary to combat high rates of drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and suicide, all while maintaining the State's primary role and responsibility in criminal matters.

"With such strong people and rich cultural heritage, we know rural Alaska is poised to combat public safety issues if given the proper tools," said Sen. Begich. "The problems of unreported abuse and an absence of law enforcement in many communities have existed too long. By listening to our rural communities, Alaska Native leaders, and taking a different approach, we can create and sustain safer communities in rural Alaska."

The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) echoed Sen. Begich's call to empower tribes and for improved public safety.

"AFN salutes Senator Begich with the introduction of his Safe Families and Villages legislation. Senator Begich is listening to our Native peoples and we are very pleased with this positive development," said Julie Kitka, President of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

The Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act would build on the Tribal Law and Order bill signed by President Obama in 2010 and expand efforts by the State of Alaska to grow the VPSO program.

The legislation calls for an appropriation of $2.5 million for the Tribal Courts Program and $5 million for an Alaska Village Peace Officers program. Eligible tribes could qualify for a $250,000 annual grant under the Courts provision and be eligible for up to $100,000 for the Peace Officers program. Under the bill, the federal Office of Justice Programs will select up to nine Alaska tribes over a three-year period between fiscal years 2011-13. Selected tribes would remain in the program for five years. The program would work closely with the State of Alaska.

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