Skip to comments.Bill would let tribal police arrest non-Indians (Washington State)
Posted on 02/27/2008 2:08:40 AM PST by Stoat
Bill would let tribal police arrest non-Indians
OLYMPIA A bill that would expand some tribal police officers power to arrest non-Indian criminals on reservations is moving quickly in the Legislature.
Proponents say the bill would speed up police response on reservations, which some say are in danger of becoming havens for non-Indian criminals who feel they have little to fear. The House of Representatives has approved House Bill 2476 and its expected to be approved by a Senate committee before a key deadline Friday.
Right now we have citizens in the state of Washington that like to think of reservations as free zones, said state Rep. John McCoy, D-Marysville, a Tulalip tribal member.
For tribes that want expanded policing authority, McCoys bill would grant them general law enforcement powers, so long as they have the same training, psychological evaluation and polygraph test that other officers undergo. The tribe would also have to provide liability insurance. Except in cases such as hot pursuits or joint operations, the police powers would only apply on reservations.
Some conservative lawmakers and nearly every sheriff in the state are opposed. Some say they worry about accountability and liability. Others note that such agreements already are possible and say the matter should be left up to a sheriff.
We are circumventing the authority of the local sheriff if we enact this bill. Thats the way I read it, said state Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee.
Law enforcement on reservations is a complex patchwork of jurisdictions. Except for major crimes, which are handled by federal agents, tribal members committing crimes against other members on tribal land typically fall under the jurisdiction of the tribes police and courts.
Non-Indian criminals are not subject to tribal courts. In most cases, tribal police can detain a non-Indian suspect but cannot arrest the person. So they hold him and call for a county deputy.
And thats the problem, McCoy and tribal police say. It can take hours to get a busy deputy on scene.
McCoy himself has faced this problem. When a non-Indian burglar broke into his office late one night, McCoy said, he bolted from bed and tried to use his truck to block the thiefs pickup from escaping.
An hour and 45 minutes later, the sheriff showed up, McCoy told lawmakers. He said he understands that county deputies are busy. But if tribal police are available, he said, they should be able to arrest the person and investigate the crime.
I view it as equal protection under the law, McCoy said.
Some tribes already do this. Colville tribal police have been commissioned as Okanogan and Ferry county deputies for years, with the same law enforcement powers. With the tribes 25 commissioned officers covering everyone on the reservation, the counties save time and money, said Cory Orr, assistant chief of the Colville Tribal Police Department.
In my view, it enhances the sovereignty of the tribe, Orr said. My officers police everything within our boundaries. Were able to handle all comers on our reservation.
McCoy and other proponents cite a 2004 report by the U.S. Department of Justice that found that American Indians are twice as likely as other races to be the victim of violence.
In one category of crime murders of juveniles from 1976 to 1999 the killer in 70 percent of cases was another American Indian. But unlike whites and blacks, who tend to suffer violence primarily at the hands of someone of the same race, the study suggests that Indians are primarily victimized by members of other races. At least two-thirds of the time, robberies and assaults of tribal members were done by whites or blacks.
The numbers were particularly striking for sexual assault, where federal statisticians calculated that 86 percent of Native American victims were raped or sexually assaulted by whites or blacks.
And by virtue of race, we cant touch them, Mike Lasnier, chief of the Suquamish tribal police, told lawmakers at a recent hearing. Because of jurisdictional problems, he said, reservations are also targeted by organized crime trying to move drugs.
On New Years Eve several years ago, Lasnier said, he had to let an obviously impaired driver go uncharged because no deputy would be available for eight hours. (The motorist was not allowed to drive home.) Two years later, Lasnier said, that same driver killed three people in a wreck.
According to the state sheriffs association, 38 of the states 39 county sheriffs oppose the bill. Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick, a former state lawmaker, was the only dissenter. In a letter to lawmakers, the sheriffs said theyre worried about liability in case someone sues over a tribal officers actions. Tribal officers said their federal training is at least as good as the states training center.
Its presumptuous and I think at best inaccurate to suppose that tribal police have less training, said Scott Smith, chief of Tulalip tribal police.
Some lawmakers seem skeptical. Under questioning at a legislative hearing last week, Smith acknowledged that in two months on the job, hes fired three people who didnt meet his standards.
Youve been there for two months and youve fired three people. What should I read from that that existed there prior to your arrival? said Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood.
Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, also said the jurisdiction problem is a two-way street. The bill would not grant deputies any more authority over tribal members on reservations.
What Ive seen is it works both ways, Kretz told McCoy. I could tell you a lot of stories about crimes being committed off-reservation where the perpetrator goes back, whether its a tribal member or not.
McCoy agreed. Yes, we have Indians that misbehave, and they use the jurisdiction just like the non-Indians, he said. But he said his tribe is cracking down.
Because we dont want anybody to break the law, McCoy said, no matter what the color of their skin.
Richard Roesler can be reached at (360) 664-2598 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Is this the real McCoy?
There is no reason at all why this separate and privileged status for “indians” must continue. It is much worse than affirmative action.
Either they’re Americans, or they’re not.
“Either theyre Americans, or theyre not.”
Well, that’s the rub: They think THEY are Americans, but no one else is.
Abolish all tribal rights. Problem solved.