Tribal police given more authority in Idaho

LEWISTON, Idaho — Tribal police officers on the Nez Perce Reservation in northern Idaho starting April 1 will have the ability to ticket anyone violating federal law on the reservation.

The Lewiston Tribune reports that U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson sent letters late last month to five northern Idaho county sheriffs bordering the Nez Perce Reservation informing them of the change.

The letter announced that U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale had approved a Central Violations Bureau docket giving tribal officers authority to ticket non-tribal members for crimes limited to misdemeanors and petty offenses.

Those crimes include such things as drug possession, unlawful timber harvest and trespassing on tribal lands. Traffic laws aren’t included.

Only tribal officers who have received their Special Law Enforcement Commission from the Bureau of Indian Affairs can issue citations.

“All this program does is allow these officers, who are specially trained and have worked with our office, to also issue the violation notices,” Olson said.

The program is part of an effort by the Obama administration to increase public safety on reservations, she said.

“Under this administration, there has been increased direction for the Department of Justice and specifically U.S. attorney’s offices to work with law enforcement on the reservation to increase public safety,” Olson said. “The federal government has long had law enforcement responsibility on the reservation, so this is a continued part of that.”

Clearwater County Sheriff Chris Goetz said he’s concerned about how the new policy will work.

“It implies that we’re not doing a good job at public safety now, and I don’t think that’s the case, at least not here in Clearwater County,” he said. “All the things that they’re going to have authority over non-tribal members for mirrors statutes we already have in state code. They could be charged in state court, and I guess my feeling is that would be the preferred method for everyone involved.”

Nez Perce Tribal Police Chief Dave Rogers said seven of his 18 officers have received their Special Law Enforcement Commission training. He said eight more are going through the process.

“There may officially be an April 1 start date, but we’re not prepared to start right away,” he said. “We’re not going to be springing any surprises.”

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Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com

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