Tribal police force gains power to arrest non-Indians on reservation
TULALIP, Wash. (AP) - Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick wants every lawbreaker to know that Tulalip tribal police have the right to stop and arrest anyone on the reservation, whether they are a tribal member or not.
About 80 percent of the people who live on the 22,000-acre reservation are non-Indian and the majority of the 20,000 to 30,000 people who visit the reservation each day aren't tribal members.
Since the tribal police department was formed 11 years ago, some non-Indians living on the reservation have contested the tribal officers' authority, from torn-up traffic citations to dangerous confrontations.
By forging a partnership between tribal police and county authorities, the new sheriff believes police protection of the reservation will improve and his deputies' workload will be eased.
Lovick cross-commissioned 17 of the 22 tribal officers April 11, giving tribal officers the authority to arrest non-Indians on the reservation. The cross-commission came just two weeks after Gov. Chris Gregoire signed legislation that allows tribal police to expand their authority on Indian reservations.
Without the deputization, ''I can't protect my community, and that's just ludicrous,'' new Tulalip Tribal Police Chief Scott Smith said. Such agreements are not even necessary for city police officers.
''We're as professional a police department as any other,'' Smith said. ''This isn't going to be a haven for you because you're not an Indian.''
The partnership is the first in Snohomish County. Former Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart didn't grant commissions to any tribal officers, except to former Tulalip Tribal Police Chief Jay Goss. He did not believe they met the qualifications of other sworn officers.
Under the previous rules, tribal police could investigate any crime or stop anyone on the reservation. But if the suspect wasn't a tribal member, the officers were required to call a sheriff's deputy or Washington State Patrol trooper to make the arrest.
That meant waiting for a deputy to be free. As the clock ran, tribal officers knew they had only about an hour to detain someone before it could be considered an unlawful arrest.
''We're at the mercy of their call load,'' Smith said. ''We have to kick them loose or hope the deputy gets there damn quick.''
Smith and Lovick worked together to make sure tribal officers met all the same qualifications required for sheriff's deputies. A sheriff's lieutenant spent a week reviewing the officers' backgrounds and training, Lovick said.
Tribal police officers must have completed training at the state academy or equivalency training, and passed a polygraph and psychological evaluation.
''There's nothing to worry about - these are well-qualified, well-trained officers,'' Lovick said. ''I think people will be pleased with the level and quality of service they provide.''
Smith believes giving his officers expanded authority will make for more efficient policing. His department will train with the sheriff's office and call on sheriff's deputies to assist with major crimes involving non-Indians. The FBI has jurisdiction in major criminal investigations on Indian reservations.
The new state law expanding the authority of tribal police, which was sponsored by John McCoy, D-Tulalip, requires tribal police officers to be state certified. Tribes also must obtain liability insurance and waive sovereign nation immunity if the police department is sued or an officer is accused of misconduct.
''It's landmark,'' McCoy said. ''The whole thing is that it's equal justice for all. We can't have a haven for people and not have them responsible for their actions.''
The law closes some important gaps, said Mike Lasnier, legislative chairman for the Northwest Association of Tribal Enforcement Officers and Suquamish tribal police chief on the Port Madison reservation near Poulsbo.
No longer will tribal police authority be completely dependent on the relationship between a tribal police chief and the county sheriff, he said.
Smith recognizes that his officers' expanded authority may cause some unease among residents, but he encourages anyone with concerns to contact him.
Tulalip Tribal Police Sgt. Jeff Jira said the expanded authority is an honor that he and his fellow officers take seriously.
He believes he'll be able to do his job more efficiently. There is no reason to burden a sheriff's deputy with more work when tribal officers are already there to do the job, he said.
''I think the only ones who should be opposed are the criminals,'' Jira said.
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