In 1979, after years in the Marines, a young man from Minnesota moved to Alaska to work at a gold mine. Little did he know that nearly 40 years later, he’d be one of the longest-serving village public safety officers (VPSOs) in the state.
Sergeant Dan Harrelson is a compact man in his 60s, and the local White Mountain kids often refer to him as “Uncle Dan.” In November, he reached 25 years as the sole law enforcement figure in town. He’s one of only six VPSOs in the Bering Strait region, where 10 VPSO positions are currently vacant.
Harrelson says it’s a tough job, especially in a small, tight-knit community like White Mountain.
Half the village probably loves you, and the other half doesn’t care for you too much, because you’ve put their son in jail, or done things that they feel you picked on them or picked on the family members. Even the people that don’t like you, when they have a problem, they still call you.
As school principal David Fair explains, Harrelson’s role is more than responding to calls and making arrests.
Having high standards, being part of the high standards in the community, and then holding people accountable to the community standards of good behavior and just being fair.
Many community members credit Harrelson’s fair, long-term service for helping keep White Mountain’s crime rates down.
To hear more about Harrelson’s work in White Mountain and the challenges and rewards that come with it, listen above.
Image at top: White Mountain VPSO Dan Harrelson inside his home at Christmastime. (Photo: Gabe Colombo, KNOM)