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Decision on tribal policing powers possible soon
MARYSVILLE State Sen. John McCoy, D-Everett, said his proposal to add to the policing power of Washingtons Native American police forces could be decided in the next few weeks.
It lives or dies this session, McCoy said.
The legislature will remain in Olympia through March 13.
Essentially, what is at stake is the right of tribal police to arrest non-tribal members. Currently, tribal officers can arrest Native Americans, but only can detain non-natives suspected of committing some offense or another on tribal lands.
I think were leveling the field, said Tulalip Tribal Police Chief Scott Smith.
Under the current system, Smith and others contend native officers must depend, unfairly, on aid from local sheriffs offices to help with non-native offenders. Smith didnt criticize the Snohomish County Sheriffs office, but said the reality is that sometimes the help is there and sometimes it just isnt.
If they have the time, they will respond when we call, Smith said. But were at their mercy. I dont think its any big secret they are as understaffed as any other sheriffs office.
For his part, McCoy said if the local sheriff or the highway patrol doesnt show up, tribal officers simply must release non-tribal suspects.
We can only hold them for so long, Smith agreed.
Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick did not return phone calls, but has publicly come out in favor of McCoys measure.
This is at least the second time McCoy has tried to pass similar legislation. He said that last year, at the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day the American Civil Liberties Union voiced an objection to one line of his previous bill.
That effectively killed it, McCoy said, adding it seemed headed to easy passage before the ACLU acted. Since then, McCoy said he has rewritten significant portions of the bill, addressing ACLU worries about suspect rights, but also the concerns of other opponents.
Perhaps most significantly, McCoy said tribes will have to agree not to raise sovereignty issues if or when arrests of non-tribal members are challenged in court. Tribal forces also will need to obtain $15 million in liability insurance. Both McCoy and Smith said the similar policies of most municipal forces cover only about $1 million in potential damages.
In terms of personnel, under McCoys bill, tribal departments and their personnel will need to obtain certain training and certifications before being allowed to take advantage of any new policing powers. Essentially, they will need to meet the same professional standards required of municipal departments, McCoy said.
Besides the training, Smith said tribal personnel will need to undergo psychological studies and take a polygraph test.
Smith said his forces are, or soon will be, ready to meet all the requirements of McCoys legislation.
I think were leading the pack, he said, adding the bills requirements are likely to hold some other tribes back from quickly taking advantage of any new rules.
Tribal officials elsewhere did not return phone calls.
Smith believes its especially important for his department to move quickly because of the presence of the Tulalip Casino and the tribes outlet malls.
Weve got 20,000 to 30,000 people coming here everyday and the vast majority are non-natives, he said.
Smith currently has a staff of 25 officers, though he added some of those are fish and wildlife personnel.
After 28 years with the Montlake Police Department, Smith only joined the Tulalip force a little over a month ago.
Dont assume that I support this just because Im a tribal chief, he said. If I were still in Montlake, I would still support it.
McCoy said several other states have similar measures in place and there have been no problems.
Its just all about equal justice under the law, he added.