Tribal Government & News

Conference discusses Oregon's Tribal police law

09.30.2014 Dean Rhodes Public safety, State government

The words of the day came from Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw counsel Pete Shepherd.
"Coffee," Shepherd said, "is a better way to improve communication than a two-way radio."
Shepherd's observation came during a daylong conference regarding a 2011 law, known as Senate Bill 412. It gives police serving Oregon's nine Tribes the same rights to make arrests on Tribal lands as city, county and state police have to make arrests in their jurisdictions.
"It mirrors state and municipal laws," said Shelby Rihala, an attorney with Jordan Ramis law firm.
Law enforcement professionals from Tribes, county sheriff's departments, attorneys and others came together on Thursday, Sept. 18, at Spirit Mountain Casino to discuss "principles of successful multi-jurisdictional law enforcement in and out of Indian Country." 
Most states have not passed a similar law and Oregon's law sunsets in 2015. This group of police and others involved with police work, however, agreed that the law has worked well.
Grand Ronde Police Chief Al LaChance said that SB 412 has been good for the police in Grand Ronde and networking has enabled the Tribal police, working with others, to improve law enforcement in the area. Going forward, he said, the Tribal police force will strengthen existing bonds and reach out to create new ones.
Polk County Sheriff Robert Wolfe, who initially opposed the law, said that good results changed his mind.
"We're better with it than against it," he said. Polk County Sheriff's Department has worked successfully with the Grand Ronde Tribal Police Department, he said.
"Before 412," said Brad Kneaper, former chief of police at the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Tribe, "individual relationships may not have been the best. After 412, we had a lot more comfortable relationships with other sheriffs."
State Sen. Floyd Prozanski, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, guided the bill through the Senate in 2011. In his lunch-time update, he said, "I haven't heard anything from anybody that this law is not a success." He said he intended to make it permanent during the 2015 legislative session.
"Improved communication and partnership are the lynchpin," said Eriks Gabliks, director of the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, the state police academy.
"It's milestone legislation," Gabliks added. "National voices think SB 412 is a significant advance."
"Local Tribal jurisdiction works best," said Tom Gede, a member of the Federal Indian Law and Order Commission, providing a national context. "It's strengthening Tribal justice."
Gede noted that in Arizona, certified Tribal police are eligible for the state's public safety retirement plan. "It's a great tool for retention," he said.
Also based in Arizona, but with membership across many states, is the Indian Country Intelligence Network created to organize and share law enforcement information, expertise and training.
"Benign neglect," Gede said, is holding much back with regard to improvements for Native justice.
Still, he said, "Oregon is doing a great job, way ahead of the other states."
"Our relationships with seven counties," said Mitch Hicks, chief of enforcement for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, "sped up our MOUs to getting them in a few weeks."
The biggest challenge in establishing formal relations between Tribes and other law enforcement agencies, said Tim Addleman, police chief for the Umatilla Tribal Police Department, is that Tribes have balked at loss of sovereignty.
It is also a challenge to give out Tribal member information, said Carman Smith, police chief of the Burns Paiute Tribe.
"We can't have bickering for a seamless police response," said Shepherd. Even if one person has made an important mistake, "the public verdict comes down on the whole system."
"There is definitely value in coming together to share information and continue to build relationships that help all of us to work better together across jurisdictions," said Justin Martin, Grand Ronde Tribal lobbyist. "This, in turn, creates safer communities and a safer state for all Oregonians."
Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno welcomed the group to Grand Ronde in a conference room at the casino and added, "It has always been a dream of the Tribe to have our own police force. Now we do."
Leno said that the Tribe honors veterans for their service to the country, and that many went on to serve in the police, too.
Also in attendance from the Tribe were Tribal Council Secretary Toby McClary, Planning Director Rick George and Mindy Lane, who handles records and evidence for the Tribe's police.
"Changing a culture takes time," said Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan.
"SB 412 is a living, breathing document," said Shepherd.