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Tribes participate in sheriff’s academy amid tension

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Some 22 Riverside County area Indians began participating in a citizens’ law enforcement academy Dec. 6 meant to educate them on state laws that could apply to their respective reservations. But the training also comes on the heels of a year-long heated conflict between law enforcement and a local Indian tribe.

A Riverside County Sheriff official said the concept of such an academy for the county’s 12 Indian tribes predated the tension between them and the chairman of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians. That rift resulted from the killing of three tribal members on the Soboba reservation that led to an ongoing dispute over law enforcement access to the reservation. No Soboba tribal members are registered for the inaugural academy but are expected to participate in future ones, said Alex Tortes, the sheriff’s tribal liaison.

The academy will teach tribal members the descriptions of state laws such as trespassing and the procedures for making complaints and citizen’s arrests, information deemed imperative for the often judicial blur on sovereign land still dependent on outside law enforcement service but not subject to county ordinances or civil laws. Some reservations in the country are subject to state laws and outside law enforcement for criminal matters under a controversial law enacted by congress, Public Law 280.

“We are trying to get leadership and member of tribes to become familiar with law enforcement and the Sheriffs Department and also community policing to build partnerships and give them tools to take back to their reservations and improve quality of life,” Tortes said.

But also, by “engaging with deputies,” Indians and law enforcement aim to build trust, communication and an understanding, Tortes said.

Tortes said that his findings indicated reservation residents are suspicious of deputies patrolling reservations.

“Deputies are accountable and we can’t just do what we want to do on reservations,’ Tortes said, a tribal member of the Torres Martinez Band of Cahuilla Indians and former police officer.

“I think it’s going to work, I really do,” he said.

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