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Idaho panel endorses tribal policing proposal

Thu., Feb. 10, 2011

BOISE – After a six-hour hearing that stretched long into the evening, an Idaho House committee on Wednesday endorsed the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s legislation to let its police officers enforce state laws on their North Idaho reservation.

Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, voted with the 8-6 majority in favor of the bill, which now goes to the full House with a recommendation that it pass.

“It was a safety issue,” Sims said, citing testimony from Kootenai County Sheriff Rocky Watson that his deputies have worked cooperatively with Coeur d’Alene Tribal Police for the past decade and it’s served the public well.

Benewah Sheriff Bob Kirts revoked his county’s cross-deputization agreement in 2007, prompting a situation that many said threatens public safety. When they pull over a non-tribal member, tribal officers now must wait until a county or state officer arrives to take over.

“There are serious issues in terms of response time that are not a criticism of the sheriff,” former Benewah Commissioner Christina Crawford told the House Judiciary Committee. “It’s a question of the logistics of the district.”

Phil Lampert, a lifelong Benewah County resident, testified against the bill, saying, “We do feel that separate but respectful relations at this point in time probably will work best for us.”

The tribe last year dropped similar legislation when, just as lawmakers were getting ready to pass it, Benewah County agreed to a cross-deputization agreement. Then, after the legislative session ended, the county backed out of the agreement. House Judiciary Chairman Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, traveled to Benewah County in December to try to broker a deal, and an agreement was reached – and again the county backed out.

The new bill, HB 111, wouldn’t require the county to be involved; tribal police officers could function as police officers under state law if they have all the required training and insurance and cite all non-tribal criminal offenders into state court, not tribal court.

Benewah County Prosecutor Douglas Payne said the county doesn’t want the tribe enforcing its civil jurisdiction over things like boating speeds, dock rules, hunting and fishing through citations. The pending bill doesn’t address that; it deals with criminal law enforcement only.

Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, said, “I think they’re trying to move all the other stuff onto it to muddy the water. All we’re talking about is public safety for all.”

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