Tulalip police powers growing

By Kate Reardon

Herald Writers

TULALIP — Tribal police on the Tulalip Reservation will take the lead in investigating serious crimes involving American Indians, based on a recent agreement between Snohomish County and the tribes.

In preparation for the change, tribal police two weeks ago started a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week schedule. Eventually, all tribal officers will have been trained at a police academy.

The shift in authority is an extension of the tribes’ sovereignty, said John McCoy, the Tulalip Tribes’ executive director for government affairs.

The change primarily affects the tribes, its members and members of other tribes. The sheriff’s office would continue to handle criminal cases involving nontribal members.

Suspects will still be jailed in the Snohomish County Jail, and county deputies, who have been cross-deputized as tribal police, will still have the authority to arrest people, Hammond said. But the cases could be heard only in tribal or federal courts.

Tulalip tribal chairman Herman Williams Jr. said it symbolizes a return to rightful jurisdiction over American Indians while on tribal land.

The agreement between the county, the tribes and the county prosecutor comes as a federal order turns over those police powers to the Tulalips. It changes a sometimes strained relationship between tribal members and nontribal law enforcement officials.

Under the new arrangement, the tribes will have jurisdiction over American Indians when the crime is committed on several different kinds of tribally owned land, such as trust land. But they won’t have jurisdiction over non-Indians, or parts of the reservation that are privately owned.

It should mean more timely police service on the reservation, said J.A. Goss, Tulalip Tribes police chief. Three officers will patrol the area at any given time instead of just the one sheriff’s deputy assigned to the area.

Some tribal members say it may improve what they see as a history of unequal treatment of tribal members by the sheriff’s office.

The change will enable tribal police to enforce a wider range of laws on the reservation. For example, if an American Indian is suspected of committing murder on tribal-owned land, the tribal police will handle the case. Now, tribal police enforce civil laws such as traffic enforcement.

The expanded tribal role initially caused some anxiety among county officials, who feared it would create loopholes for people to escape prosecution, said Jim Hammond, an analyst with County Executive Bob Drewel’s office.

"Once people started working together and you understood how responsible and competent J.A. Goss was, and how serious their law enforcement program was going to be, those anxieties were eased," he said.

The Snohomish County Council is scheduled to vote Nov. 21 on whether to authorize Drewel to sign the agreement, Hammond said.

Those living on the reservation in need of police assistance can call the department at 360-651-4608. In case of emergencies, 911 also will work. Goss said his department is working with the telephone company to come up with an easier four-digit emergency number.

Other tribes who have taken back jurisdiction over some criminal cases include the nearby Lummi, Swinomish and Puyallup tribes.

Tribal officers may eventually be deputized to act as county deputies as well, if they meet county requirements, Hammond said.

"There will be a lot of coordination going on between the two jurisdictions," McCoy said of the tribes and sheriff’s office.

You can call Herald Writer Kate Reardon at 425-339-3455

or send e-mail to reardon@heraldnet.com.

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