Tribal Government & News

Tribe seeks more public safety funding from Congress

By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tribal Vice Chair Jack Giffen Jr. testified before the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, seeking more funding for law enforcement in Indian County on Tuesday, March 24.

In particular, Giffen said that terminated Tribes, such as the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, continue to be disenfranchised from their years of not being federally recognized.

“My remarks will highlight the continued impacts Termination has had on Grand Ronde’s ability to secure federal funding for much needed law enforcement services,” Giffen said.

Although Grand Ronde has made great strides in rebuilding its Reservation community after 29 years of Termination from 1954 to 1983, Giffen said the Tribe continues to lose out when seeking federal funding for infrastructure needs, such as law enforcement and certain social services programs.

“Grand Ronde, like other terminated Tribes, did not receive any of the federal funding investments nor social welfare benefits directed at Indian Country during the era of self-determination,” he said.

Giffen said the Grand Ronde community has grown in population, as well as crime, over the past 20 years. To address the increasing population and crime numbers, as well as slow to non-existent police response, the Tribe in 1997 entered into an enhanced service agreement with Polk County and spent hundreds of thousands of Tribal dollars annually to provide police coverage to the community, including nonTribal lands.

In 2012, the Tribe started its own police department. Following the adoption of Senate Bill 412, which allows Tribal police officers to be treated as peace officers under Oregon law, Tribal police started enforcing criminal law in the Grand Ronde area. With the end of the enhanced service agreement with Polk County, the Tribal Police Department is now the primary law enforcement agency in the area.

“Due to the high crime rates in the remote and rural area, which also contains one of the largest tourist destinations in Oregon, it is imperative that, in the absence of Polk County enhanced services, the Tribe operate its police department to ensure the safety of its community and neighbors. In order to do so, it requires BIA funding,” Giffen said.

However, he told the House subcommittee, the Bureau of Indian Affairs refused to enter into a contract with the Tribe to provide law enforcement services because the agency isn’t currently providing law enforcement services to the Tribe.

“Had Grand Ronde not been terminated in 1954, it is highly likely the Bureau of Indian Affairs would have provided law enforcement services on the Reservation, thus allowing the Tribe to today qualify for a contract to fund its law enforcement,” Giffen said.

Although Oregon is a Public Law 280 state, which the BIA has a general policy of not funding law enforcement programs in, Giffen said that Grand Ronde should qualify under the current definition of special circumstances.

“Federal base funding for Tribal justice systems should be made available on equal terms to all federally recognized Tribes,” Giffen said. “Nonetheless, the Tribe would qualify for funding under the bureau’s current policy as it fits the definition of special circumstances.”

Giffen cited several crime statistics, such as 24.66 percent of sex crimes in Polk County occur in the Grand Ronde area, as well as 30 percent of all assaults and harassment cases. In addition, 47.8 percent of Polk County’s drug offenses in 2012 occurred in the Grand Ronde area.

Giffen added that in 2012, 23 percent of the 2,458 reported incidents in Polk County occurred in the Grand Ronde area, which only has 3.2 percent of the county’s population and 4.2 percent of its land base.

Also, Giffen said, there is not enough police staff to cover the area, which includes Fort Hill and the outskirts of Willamina, and includes Spirit Mountain Casino and Oregon Highway 18, a heavily traveled roadway to the Oregon Coast.

“There is a high and demonstrable need for increased law enforcement to meet this need,” Giffen said. “Surely, a reduction of law enforcement presence in the community would only result in an upswing of drug activity. Further, although there is no recorded prevalence of gang activity in the area, the level of drug-related crime suggests that gang activity could be occurring.

 “In conclusion, Grand Ronde requests the subcommittee’s assistance in securing additional funding for the BIA, to be used to enhance law enforcement efforts by the Tribe and its police force.”

Accompanying Giffen on the trip to Washington, D.C., were Tribal Council Secretary Toby McClary, Tribal Council Chief of Staff Stacia Martin and Tribal Attorney Rob Greene.

McClary said the trip to Washington, D.C., was “very productive” and included meetings with staff members of the Oregon congressional delegation and attendance at a breakfast hosted by Speaker of the House John Boehner during which he and Giffen spoke with House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) for about 10 minutes.

McClary and Giffen also attended a luncheon where they met Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon’s 2nd District congressman, and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who ran for vice president with Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential election.