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Tribes want power to arrest off reservation

Sun., March 13, 2011

Oregon lawmakers considering bill

SALEM – Warm Springs officials would like to change Oregon law to give tribal police officers jurisdiction off the reservation.

But some non-tribal law enforcement officials want a two-way street: If tribal officers are to get more authority off the reservation, they say, then state, county and municipal law enforcement officers should get more authority when they are on the reservation.

Under existing law, tribal officers cannot arrest anyone off a reservation.

If, for instance, there is a shooting at Rainbow Market just across the river from the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, it can take Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies a while to get to the scene.

For Warm Springs officers, it’s only a few minutes away. But unless tribal officers have been cross-deputized, they can’t make an arrest. At best, they can prevent suspects from fleeing.

Officers of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and other tribes in Oregon say that giving them more authority off of reservations would improve public safety. They point out that they go through the same training and certification process as state-certified officers.

The Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, which opposes the bill, says there needs to be reciprocity.

There are certain laws that apply to state-sanctioned policing agencies that do not always apply to tribal officers.

John Powell, a lobbyist with the sheriffs’ association, says there are many examples, including laws governing open records and the handling of evidence. Powell wonders if the legislation would require tribal members to follow these laws and others.

He said tribal police should be required to abide by the same laws as state law enforcement agencies.

In 2005, a Warm Springs officer was in pursuit of a vehicle that was traveling through the reservation on U.S. 26. The driver had crossed the centerline and driven into the oncoming lane of traffic. The officer, Joseph Davino, continued to follow the car as it sped across the reservation’s boundary. Davino eventually arrested Thomas Kurtz, who was charged and convicted of attempting to elude a police officer and resisting arrest.

The Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the decision to charge Kurtz. Because Davino was not a police officer, the court reasoned, Kurtz could not be charged with resisting arrest or attempting to elude an officer. The court said a police officer acts on behalf of an Oregon governmental entity. Tribal police officers do not act on behalf of the state.

The Court of Appeals decision has made it difficult for tribal officers to know exactly what to do with the thousands of non-Indian motorists traveling across the reservation on U.S. Highway 26.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, assembled the work group on the bill.

“My perspective is, if you’re going to have tribal officers taking enforcement action off the tribal lands, certain criteria need to be met,” Prozanski said. “I’m not going to go into a lot of details because a lot is in the works. I’m serious about moving something forward in the sense that we will have a hearing.”

Stan Suenaga, chief of the Warm Springs Public Safety Department, says the tribe is willing to work with the sheriffs’ association to address its concerns.


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