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By ANDREW SHEELER
Daily News Staff Writer
At first blush, it’s easy to mistake Corey Padrón for a traditional police officer. He has the uniform, the Taser, ballistic vest and the car with the lights on top. But the 43-year-old Clackamas, Ore., native and newly hired Saxman Village Public Safety Officer said he would like to be thought of for his emphasis on community policing and social work "instead of focusing on writing tickets, making arrests."
Padrón has served as a VPSO for just more than a year. Prior to January, he worked as one in the village of Angoon. Padrón arrived in Saxman on Feb. 9, but the new officer — who replaced previous VPSO Steven Rugg — has spent a significant portion of the year in training, including five weeks of basic training and two weeks of "intense fire training" in Sitka.
Since arriving, Padrón said he’s made an effort to attend as many Saxman public functions as he could, and to introduce himself to the community. That effort included joining the Alaska Native Brotherhood Camp 15.
"I really love Tlingit culture," he said.
Padrón also said he tries to do at least two "very thorough" patrols a day.
He leaves again on April 7 to complete three weeks of legal training, the last component of the 10-week course all Village Public Safety Officers are expected to complete.
The Village Public Safety Officer program is part of the Alaska Department of Public Safety, under the banner of the Alaska State Troopers. However, they are not employees of the state, but of the various nonprofit tribal entities around the state.
Padrón is employed by the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.
The VPSOs are intended to supplement the troopers’ presence in the often-remote villages of rural Alaska. The primary difference between VPSOs and their enforcement brethren is that VPSOs are not authorized to carry firearms.
Instead, they are equipped — as all law enforcement officers are — with a baton, stun gun and pepper spray.
After Manokotak VPSO Thomas Madole was shot and killed on March 19, Padrón was one of people who voiced concern about the lack of firearms.
"It certainly brought up concerns," he said. "I’m a proponent of arming VPSOs."
Padrón’s roommate at basic training was Madole’s partner. "He took it very hard," he said. Padrón said the shooting was a reminder that every call has the potential to be a fatal one. He added that he was fortunate in that Saxman is one of the few villages with a VPSO to have law enforcement backup "literally two miles away."
Padrón brings a fair amount of public service education to his new job. He has associate’s degrees in criminal justice and emergency management, and is nearly done with a bachelor’s degree in fire services administration. Padrón also has worked for nonprofits dedicated to homeless advocacy and chemical dependency detox.
Becoming a VPSO "was really kind of the culmination of all my studying," he said.
Now that he’s in Alaska, Padrón said he intends to spend the rest of his life here. His fiance, Lorraine Richmond, and their children will move to Saxman in June. He said his 8-year-old daughter, in particular, was excited about coming to the 49th state, though she was disappointed that she wouldn’t be living on Prince of Wales Island.
"She’s obsessed with Bigfoot," Padrón laughed.
Padrón said he loved the scenery and outdoor potential available in the Ketchikan area, and he looks forward to summer.
"It really is the sweet spot of Southeast Alaska here," he said.