Iowa Officer Rallies City to Help Equip Alaskan Colleagues in Need
"I have a positive outlook, and I believe in the kindness of strangers," Officer Peme Canas said. "I knew all we needed was a spark and people would step up and help. I know the officers in Savoonga are moved by the kindness of people they will never meet."
DAVENPORT, Iowa — A six-member police force on an island in the Bering Sea soon will be equipped with stun guns, vests and other police equipment, thanks to the efforts of a fellow officer more than 3,400 miles (5,479 kilometers) away in Iowa.
Officer Peme Canas is a 16-year veteran of the Davenport Police Department who has a reputation for helping others.
Any opportunity Officer Canas has to help people, he steps up," police Major Jeff Bladel told the Quad-City Times. "He jumps in and goes all out. He is known in our department and throughout the community as someone who looks for opportunities to help others."
And he wanted to help his distant colleagues in Savoonga, Alaska, which is perched on an edge of St. Lawrence Island, nearer to the Russian port city of Provideniya than it is to any point on the western Alaska mainland coast.
Last spring, while reading a story jointly produced by Pro Publica and the Anchorage Daily News about the challenges facing Alaskan forces, Canas was stunned to learn that the Savoonga force didn't carry sidearms to protect themselves and Savoonga's nearly 700 residents, no bulletproof vests — not even enough badges. Their only items for self-defense: pepper spray.
Canas called the Savoonga police number and pledged his support to Chief Michael Wongittlin.
Chief Wongittlin was very appreciative, but he was very reserved," Canas said. "He had heard that kind of stuff before, but nothing had ever come of it. I think he didn't want to get his hopes up."
Canas reached out to fellow officers, his church, his department leadership, the city of Davenport and others for help, and they did, he said.
A number of shipping companies stepped up after Canas learned it would cost at least $600 to ship the equipment: bulletproof vests, stun guns, personalized name tags, police badges and other gear.
"I have a positive outlook, and I believe in the kindness of strangers," Canas said. "I knew all we needed was a spark and people would step up and help. I know the officers in Savoonga are moved by the kindness of people they will never meet."
Reached at his home Friday, Wongittlin said domestic violence — often with alcohol involvement — is a major problem for him and his officers.
"When people are intoxicated they don't like to comply," he said. "I end up wrestling with people half my age, twice my size."
Wongittlin lamented the lack of sufficient state or local funding to properly equip his officers and expressed his gratitude for Canas' efforts.
He's probably by far the best officer I've ever had a chance to meet without actually meeting him in person," the chief said.
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