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County, tribe reach agreement on police enforcement

County, tribe reach agreement on police enforcement

Dustin Hurst
March 17, 2010
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March 17, 2010

The Coeur D'Alene Tribe and Benewah County officials have reached an agreement, in principle, that has satisfied both groups  and has led lawmakers to hold House Bill 500, which would have forced them to work together to solve a cross-deputization issue.

The dispute over jurisdiction for tribal officers comes from just south of Coeur D’Alene, where the Coeur D’Alene Indian Reservation resides.  The reservation sits on land in two counties, Kootenai and Benewah.  The tribe currently enjoys a law enforcement agreement with the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, but the Benewah County Sheriff’s Office canceled its agreement with the tribe in 2007.

In a marathon-length hearing on the bill last week, Helo Hancock, legislative director for the Coeur D’Alene Tribe (which originally brought the plan to legislators), said that the purpose of the bill is to “encourage cooperation among the county and the tribe.”  He informed lawmakers that of the 10,000 people living on the reservation, only about 1,500 are Indian, which means that on a day-to-day basis, officers come in frequent contact with non-Indians.

The bill is a “one-way street” favoring the tribe, said Mike Kane, representing the Idaho Sheriff’s Association, last Friday.  Kane said that the legislation focuses solely on giving tribal officers additional jurisdiction and would not give authority to local sheriff’s offices to arrest tribal members on tribal lands.  Currently, sheriffs and deputies are allowed to enforce state laws on the state highways that run through the reservation.

Benewah County Prosecutor Doug Payne joined Kane in opposing the bill last week, but for different reasons.  Payne said if enacted, the bill would only confuse the public because tickets written by tribal officers would land non-Indians in tribal courts.  According to the text of the legislation, all arrests and tickets by tribal officers would be required to be processed in state courts.

No specifics of the agreement were discussed, but Wednesday Kane said that the legislation will "answer the major questions, if not all the questions."  Hancock said the agreement was the result of a lot of work for everyone involved.

Committee chairman Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, accepted the testimony of Hancock and Kane and urged lawmakers to hold the bill in committee.

"This is the first time I have been happy to hold a bill," said Clark.

The Spokesman Review released a copy of the agreement following the hearing, which outlines the obligations for each party.  According to the paper, the agreement looks like this:

  • Tribal police officers will be sheriff’s deputies, and Benewah County deputies and tribal officers will enforce each other’s laws
  • Both the tribe and the county agreed to indemnification to allow lawsuits over officer wrongdoing
  • Tribal officers won’t cite non-tribal members into tribal court, with one exception: For violations of the Safe Boating Act, misdemeanor and felony violators would be cited into state court, but infraction offenders would be given a choice of whether they’re cited into tribal or state court
  • Disputes would be resolved through non-binding arbitration, and the agreement would be up for automatic renewal each year, but either side could end it at the point of renewal.
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