Webinar presenter David Rogers answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Tribal-Federal-State Jurisdiction and Its Relationship to Public Safety in Indian Country. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: If tribes are a sovereign nation, do they have ambassadors?
David Rogers: It’s kind of a multi answer to that. In essence, the NCAI, the National Congress of American Indians have basically serviced as our ambassadors. The 567 recognized tribes in the United States, that would be 567 individual ambassadors which might be a little bit unyielding and so essentially Indian country looks at NCAI as their ambassadors. There are based in Washington DC, and they have a lot of contact with a lot of the federal agencies including in the White House, so there’s that. Now, there are other tribes that have actually sought not as a whole per se but sought to have a recognized ambassador in the United Nations. That’s a whole separate thing but there has been an effort to see about trying to identify somehow fairly an ambassador to the United Nations. So, that is a good question.
Audience Question: In your experience, how responsive are federal agencies when asked to investigate that a felony crime is on tribal lands and how cooperative or receptive are those tribes to federal agents when they come to investigate on their land?
David Rogers: I’ve experienced both sides of it. I was a chief of police of a tribe in Washington State, a tribal agency. I was there for 2 years. I never saw a federal officer a single time and we have felonies committed on our reservation. I would ask for a federal investigation, nobody came out, we prosecuted in tribal court. This includes a vehicular homicide and rape that took place and the FBI did not come out to investigate. We prosecuted that as an assault and in tribal court, the person did one year in tribal jail for killing somebody and then raping them after they were hurt. If Naz Perce tribe, we had a wonderful relationship with the FBI. The FBI worked really well with us, very close, and I’ve seen other locations too. I was visiting one of the tribes in Mississippi Choctaw, they actually have an office for the FBI in their court. They have that good of a relationship so it’s both sides of the spectrum but there has been a historic time where they didn’t respond very well. And on the third part of the question, tribes generally, I mean this is how it’s been and the feds have always had jurisdiction on the felony sense, the major crimes are to be expected and yes there are going to be times where the FBI aren’t getting a lot of cooperation. So it kind of works both ways.
Audience Question: Can you talk a bit more about how drug cartels and human traffickers are exploiting jurisdictional issues-particularly along the border and in the Tohono O’odham Nation.
David Rogers: This has been going on for a long time. The cartels recognize that tribal lands were a perfect place for them to move, store, and traffic drugs. At least 20 plus years ago or more, they looked for jurisdictional weaknesses because this is the way they can operate and so they looked for places like that. Tohono O’odham Nation has long suffered from drug traffickers and human traffickers coming across their border with Mexico and they have suffered from having to spend so much of their budget on trying to work those areas with people dying out in the desert because they didn’t prepare long enough to go across with garbage or trash or with countless stolen vehicles. I actually spent a night, an early morning with the Tohono O’odham police and other agencies on the border down there and it’s not like anything you could ever imagine in terms of what happened there. It’s not just the border with Mexico; It’s the Canadian border too. Blackfeet Nation, Lummi Nation in Washington, all of those tribes have had issues with drug traffickers moving drugs across the border to tribal lands. They rely on the fact that not all Tribal Police Departments, County Sheriffs, and State Police work well together and that bodes well for them. In jurisdictions where they are all working together and they have a task force and they are working at specifically attacking drugs, they tend to stay away from that. So this has been going on for quite some time. I first recognized it at the Yakama Nation in Washington because what would happen was that drug trafficking criminals would come up to the reservation. They would make friends, they would move in with somebody and use that as their base of operation. Since 1998 or so when we started seeing our first Native American gangs, drug traffickers now have targeted the native youth gangs to do all the mule work, all the dirty work and trying to keep their hands clean but those same gangs have become knowledgeable and powerful and now their goal is to take away the drug trafficking market away from their cartel counterparts so lots of moving issues with that one.
Audience Question: What can or should be done to help Tribal Police battle with drug cartels from the traffickers?
David Rogers: The one thing I think and that’s really what I was trying to do is that there has to be a give and take on all sides and I realized tribal folks would say, “all we’ve done is give.” but in this world we have to give and take and so one of the things that I’ve tried to do with our Tribal Police department was to match or exceed other law enforcement standards and in an effort to do that was to create trust and to show that we are as good as if not better than our peer agencies so that everybody would be willing to work together. I understand the concerns that people have really on the first tribal police departments we’re being established. There really weren’t the right folks being hired there. They were really underfunded and wasn’t in a lot of training available. In Idaho, the Tribal Police were not allowed to go to the State Police Academy and then eventually they allowed us to do that but I had to pay I think it was 12,000 dollars per officer to go to the State training, they didn’t get a letter of a certificate. They got a letter of completion that they actually attended but they don’t get a certificate. And so in those realms where we try to build the professionalism of the law enforcement folks in an effort to work with each other but there has to be understanding on both sides. I hate to say it but there is some old hatred that still exists to this day on both sides and that’s our biggest stumbling block.
Audience Question: Do Tribal Police Agencies only employ tribal members as sworn officers?
David Rogers: No. I get asked that question a lot. Tribes, of course, want to employ people but when you start adopting for a police position especially when you stop and adopt the federal standards, not everybody is going to qualify to be a police officer and with the Tribal population of 2, 3 or 4 thousand you’ve got a very small recruiting group to hire from. Big cities recruit nationally, I mean the city that has 3 million people still recruits across the nation looking for decent candidates. So with my department, there was about a fifty-fifty, I’d say thirty-thirty-thirty, I had tribal members who did qualify and were great officers, I had tribal members from tribes who worked there and I had non-tribal members working for us. Some tribes have kind of a requirement that you are part of that tribe. Those are generally very small and the Navajo nation has pretty strict requirements on who can be police with one of them but they’ve got population. There are some tribes where there’s not a single tribal member on the entire police department so that’s the whole spectrum.
Audience Question: Why are some tribal law enforcement officers conducting law enforcement duties but they’re not armed? What’s the basis for that?
David Rogers: That’s going to be a department. I think you might be talking about the VPSO. The VPSOs are part of the Alaska State Trooper System. In an effort to try to provide law enforcement, some level of law enforcement have those remote villages of Alaska, they created the VPO program. These are people who go through a few weeks of training with the troopers, they go up there and they wear a uniform and they don’t wear weapons or anything. Their job is to try to keep peace in these communities. Keeping in mind that almost everybody in these communities are armed because they’re hunters and then the VPSO program was a little bit higher level of training that they tried to provide because obviously, troopers can’t be out in every village and generally when something happens, then they call the troopers eventually and the troopers come out. Technically in Idaho, my officers have carried their weapons concealed at that time, that’s changed now. They did away with weapons concealed and all would actually be a violation because they weren’t recognized as state peace officers. It’s really kind of depends on the policy. Probation officers, for example, some of them do not carry firearms and majority don’t but some do. It depends on the jurisdiction needs.
Audience Question: Does the Felony Crimes Act also apply to felony animal cruelty?
David Rogers: No. The Major Crimes Act applies to thirteen major crimes and it has to do with homicide, sex crimes, drugs, and that type of things. Felony animal cruelty, it’s going to depend on who the perpetrator is. Remember our little crime chart. It’s going to depend on who the perpetrator is if they’re native and the victim’s the non-native or native-native type of thing. If it’s a non-native case, that’s going to go to the state. If it’s a native, it’s probably going to be classified more as a misdemeanor and I don’t think there would be a felony animal cruelty law that would be applicable. Unless it’s a public law 280, then the state could charge the tribal member if the PL 280 is in place.
Audience Question: As a non-tribal probation officer, what are some of the things we can learn from traditional tribal practices that we might be able to employ, use, or apply in our own communities?
David Rogers: That’s something that we talked about in the Tribal Probation Academy all the time and that’s to look at some of the things that are used in the traditional sense in terms of healing. I mean a big part of old traditional tribal thinking has to do with restoration. It has to do with mending ways, not with ending or not with cutting off a relationship but to fix the relationship and so a lot of old traditional methods that were used to do that. One of the things that we encourage our tribal probation officers to do is look within their own tribes, within their own cultures, and within their own traditions and find things that work. I don’t know if anybody realizes this but these concepts of restorative justice and community justice and a lot of those things originated in Indian country and if you go to Restorative Justice Conference, they would generally reference that. I encourage all the tribal probation officers to reach out to their county and state counterparts and build those same relationships and share with each other. Share resources, share knowledge, figure out ways to work together. In some cities like Albuquerque, where you have a large Native population, there are some things that won’t work for some people and other things that won’t work and so just expanding your toolbox is a really good idea so I would just reach out to your nearest tribal probation department and start building that relationship and then ask him to share things that work.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Tribal-Federal-State Jurisdiction and Its Relationship to Public Safety in Indian Country.