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General Council focuses on police staffing

UPDATED: Sun., Oct. 1, 2017, 9:57 p.m.

KAMIAH – Day three of the Nez Perce Tribe’s General Fall Council simmered to an end, and several agenda items were disregarded in favor of robust public comment.

Saturday’s meeting at the Wa-A’Yas Community Center in Kamiah began with a report from the Law and Order Subcommittee, where Nez Perce Tribe Executive Committee member Shannon Wheeler, the subcommittee’s chairman, said the tribe’s police department has had a dearth of employees because of officers staying such a short time.

The Tribal Police Department’s struggle to retain officers is mirrored by the national scramble to recruit and keep officers at departments. Law enforcement across the nation has labored over recruiting officers and low response to donning the badge has led to inability to cover the full reservation 24 hours a day.

Wheeler said the Tribal Police Department has tried to boost incentives to recruits by offering pension plans to its officers.

“We are considering longer contracts for the tribal police that we offer training to,” Wheeler said. “We’re trying to keep officers there by offering different things that we may not currently offer.”

Among the other reports Saturday, it was noted the tribe won a grant that will be used to renovate Kamiah’s tribal courthouse, with construction set to begin in November.

Tribal courts will also be implementing a “healing to wellness” court program meant to help nonviolent drug offenders overcome addiction issues. An adult program is already underway, and a juvenile specialty court is set to be implemented soon. The six-member court, including a judge, offers guidance and treatment to low-level offenders, as opposed to punishment.

Wheeler and a Law and Justice executive officer took tongue-lashings from several people who spoke because they were the only members to show for the final meeting, with no-shows from the police department and other supervisors and managers.

Members of the Gaming Commission and Tribal Employment Rights Office were not in attendance, though their reports were pushed into Saturday because of agenda items falling behind schedule Friday.

“The gaming commissioner should be present,” said Allen Slickpoo Jr. “They’re a no-show. If they don’t show up and won’t give their reports, is there not reprimands in place? If they can’t do the job maybe we need to find people who can.”

Mary Tallbull said she has had trouble with response time from tribal police, saying it takes officers nearly a half-hour to respond to her home in Kamiah.

“We need to get somebody here (in Kamiah) to respond,” Tallbull said. “It’s not fair for us to have to wait for those people.”

Wheeler explained the shortage of officers, and the difficulty of replacing officers who take different jobs, has had a toll on response time.

“Our police force is here to protect you,” Wheeler said. “Our officers do the best they can do, but the space they have to cover and the number of officers makes it difficult. I’ve taken notes on what you just said and we will pass that on to the chief of police.”

The full list of agenda items could not be accomplished in the three-day schedule, but many subcommittees made their reports and tribal members engaged in vigorous discussion and public comment.

The next General Council meeting will be in May 2018.