March 4, 2010 in City

Counties oppose tribal policing bill

Commissioners to fight measure backed by mayors
By The Spokesman-Review


If tribes and county sheriffs can’t reach cooperative agreements within six months, state-certified tribal officers could begin enforcing state law on reservations as long as they sent all cases to state courts.

County commissioners throughout Idaho’s Panhandle unanimously agreed Monday to oppose legislation that would give Idaho’s tribal police officers the right to arrest nontribal members and deliver them to state courts for prosecution.

The resolution supported by commissions in the five northern counties said tribal police departments are not accountable to the public through election; are not subject to open record or meeting laws; and that the legislation is unnecessary because all counties either already cross-deputize tribal officers or have offered to do so.

“It’s not about taking sides,” said Kootenai County Commissioner Todd Tondee. “It’s about preventing bad law from addressing a concern that is being addressed in other places. I support the (Coeur d’Alene) tribe. I support our cross-deputization agreement. I think it’s beneficial for both sides. But I think that’s the way to do it. We still have that accountability through our local sheriff.”

Last month, however, the North Idaho Mayors Coalition sent a letter to legislators urging support of the bill, saying, “simply put, this legislation would enable Tribal Police Officers to enforce state law for non-tribal members” and would promote “the safety of Idaho’s citizens.” The letter was signed by Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem, chairwoman of the coalition, representing mayors from Hayden Lake to Sandpoint to Post Falls.

The proposed legislation calls for tribes and county sheriffs to reach cooperative agreements for law enforcement on reservations. If they can’t agree within six months, state-certified tribal officers could begin enforcing state law on reservations as long as they sent all cases to state courts. The tribe also would have to carry liability insurance and waive sovereign immunity in the event they were sued over officer wrongdoing.

The legislation grew out of a conflict in Benewah County in which the Coeur d’Alene Tribe says criminals are going free because sheriff’s deputies won’t respond to tribal officers’ calls for assistance. Sheriff Bob Kirts says those claims are patently false.

The parties even disagree over whether a cross-deputization agreement exists. Benewah County Prosecutor Doug Payne said that an agreement from 2007 permits tribal officers to make arrests in emergencies, but tribal spokesman Marc Stewart said no agreement was ever reached because the county wouldn’t answer questions about what constituted an emergency and when the sheriff would permit tribal officers to take action.

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