WASHINGTON -- Fifty-eight thousand names are carved in black granite on the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a tribute to sacrifices in a faraway war. Only a
mile away, the list of those fallen in a struggle closer to home is still
Chiseled onto a pair of marble walls flanking Judiciary Square, the names
of 17,000 police and corrections officers make for an impressive, if grim,
ledger. The National Law Enforcement Memorial, dedicated in 1991, keeps a
running log of officers killed in action since the republic's founding.
Some 80 of those names are American Indian.
The memorial is soon to have a kindred neighbor. The National Law
Enforcement Museum, slated to open in 2009, will have its groundbreaking
across the street next year. The 90,000-square-foot underground facility
will include a theater, five galleries, and state-of-the-art exhibits from
"The World Beat" and "The Wild West" to "The Faces of Law Enforcement" and
"The Art of Detection."
Author of the 2000 law (Public Law 106-492) establishing the museum was
Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a former deputy sheriff with a lengthy resume
of public service. The museum will tell the story of those who enforce the
law, many of them at the cost of their own lives.
Native names on the memorial range from Chin Chee Kee, a Chickasaw captain
felled by alcohol smugglers in 1852, to Joshua Thomas Rutherford, a Montana
county sheriff killed during a domestic dispute in 2003. In between are
Muskogee, Osage, Ute, Navajo and Hopi, not to mention Standing Rock Sioux
police, led by Henry Bullhead, who died in a controversial attempt to
arrest Sitting Bull.
A law enforcement officer for 30 years, Ted Quasula has known a dozen of
the Native people listed on the memorial, including a father and son.
Currently chief of police for the Las Vegas Paiute, Quasula once hired Jack
Spencer Sr., captain of the BIA police at the Western Agency, who died in a
car accident after working a 26-hour shift in 1998. Spencer's son,
Creighton Spencer, died in eerily similar circumstances three years later.
"There's nothing more painful," Quasula said slowly, describing the
sacrifice in one home that crosses generations. "I can't even fathom what
the family feels."
Quasula, Hualapai, supports the museum as a place to honor officers living
and dead. "The Indian policeman is no different than any other who loses
his life," he said. Though "the job is dangerous enough anywhere," he
added, Indian policing has issues the public should know about.
The shortage of officers in Indian country is well-documented. An emergency
call gets answered in a few minutes in a place like Las Vegas, said
Quasula, but when Samuel Red House responded to a call on the Navajo
Reservation a decade ago without backup, he lost his life in a shootout.
The shortfall of enforcement money in Indian country, said Quasula, a
former director of BIA law enforcement, is due to reliance on grant money
instead of permanent funding. That federal funds are being cut doesn't make
sense, he said, "especially when we go around touting homeland security." A
2004 report by the Interior Department inspector general revealed -- once
again -- a severe shortage of space in BIA jails.
Reservation police units were formed as long ago as the 1870s. By 1890, 70
officers and 700 privates were serving across the West, often with surplus
uniforms and weapons. Even armed with second-class revolvers, the new
recruits could lay claim to a reminder of the warrior cultures from which
many of them hailed.
In those days, Indian policemen sometimes met with resentment. Officers
were in the dangerous position of enforcing federal law on relatives and
neighbors who had only recently given in to the government. The presence of
Indian police probably decreased the likelihood of war on the early
Today, the image of the gun-toting cop on a dragnet is out of date. Tribal
officers are more likely to engage in community policing through activities
like athletics and day care, said Quasula. If burglaries occur, officers
investigate -- then get out on the street to find out why they're happening
in the first place.
Once the museum opens, he said, "There's going to be a big sense of pride
among the loved ones" of those named on the memorial. Recognition gives
meaning to sacrifice.
The museum is being underwritten by the National Law Enforcement Officers
Memorial Fund, which has raised more than $15 million toward an $80 million
Exhibits will stress the importance of diversity. The museum needs photos
of Indian police and items like badges, weapons, shoulder patches and old
uniforms. Anyone with objects for donation is asked to contact Kim Hanser,
director of exhibitions, at (703) 278-0791 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A tradition of Native service, as common in peacetime as in war, animates
Quasula's mission. "Tribes need to get involved now," he urged. "It's going
to be exciting. And it's going to be sad."