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Eye On Boise

Tribal policing issue back before lawmakers, after county reneged on deal

The Coeur d'Alene Tribe is back before Idaho lawmakers this year, after Benewah County reneged on a deal last spring that prompted the tribe to drop legislation on policing that lawmakers were on the verge of passing. “Obviously we were extremely disappointed,” said Helo Hancock, legislative director for the tribe. “We felt like we'd been deceived in a lot of ways, that it was just an act to get out of getting a law passed.”

This time, the tribe has dropped proposals calling for a six-month window to reach a collaborative cross-deputization agreement with a county, and just written a bill modeled after other states' laws clarifying that tribal police with all required training and legal indemnification can enforce state laws. The House State Affairs Committee voted unanimously to introduce the bill.

Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, said, “I think I understand the value of the cross-deputization, because I was a county commissioner when we did that in the early '80s in Kootenai County, and it was to the advantage of law enforcement at that time. I continue to believe it is a benefit, properly done, and I'm hopeful that the bill that comes forward today will find acceptance.”

A new federal law - sponsored in part by Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson - allows tribal police officers to enforce federal law on reservations, and if necessary, to cite violators of state law into federal court. “That is not the desire of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, to use that,” Bill Roden, lobbyist for the tribe, told the committee.  “But frankly it is such a severe problem that unless this is addressed at the state level, we're merely inviting further federal action, and the current law that is on the books would permit that.”

Last March, lawmakers heard chilling testimony about criminals going free; tribal officers tied up for hours waiting for deputies to respond and take over an arrest when they're needed to address other crimes; and more, due to the lack of a cross-deputization agreement. The Coeur d'Alene Tribe long has had such an agreement with Kootenai County, and it had one with Benewah County until the sheriff there revoked it in 2007.

Under questioning from lawmakers on the committee, Roden said Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, traveled to North Idaho in December and attempted to negotiate an agreement between the tribe and the Benewah County Sheriff, who wanted a change to last year's deal to ensure non-tribal members cited on highways would be cited into state court, not tribal court. The tribe agreed, Roden said. “The sheriff represented that if Benewah County reneged on that concept he was going to resign. I haven't seen the resignation yet, but we did get a letter saying that now he doesn't agree with that either. But we tried,” Roden said. “That's all I can say.”

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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