GRAND RAPIDS -- The Cass and Itasca county boards expect to meet with the Leech Lake Tribal Council to try to iron out the last roadblock in a mutual law enforcement aid agreement.
Tribal Councilman Pete White appeared before the two county boards Wednesday at Itasca County Courthouse to present his council's position on this issue.
The council has formed a police department in response to a court ruling that found Indian tribes have the only legal authority over Indian people on civil regulatory issues. City police and county sheriffs may not enforce regulatory laws on band members on reservations.
This includes such laws as traffic controls and speeding.
Criminal law is not a band responsibility at this time, White said he believes. Expanding enforcement responsibilities in the future is something the council would consider only at a later date, he said.
Both county boards, however, lean toward Itasca Board Chair Bob Wilhelm's view: "Either you're a cop or you're not a cop."
It only confuses the public if one type of officer enforces one type of law and another officer another type of law. Wilhelm said his opinion is based on his own 30 years of experience in law enforcement.
Sheriffs Jim Dowson, Cass County, and Pat Medure, Itasca County, want a mutual aid agreement to require Leech Lake Reservation police to enforce criminal as well as regulatory laws.
Bruce Baird, Leech Lake Reservation executive director, said that because state legislation authorizing mutual aid agreements between reservations and counties did not recognize reservations as municipalities, Indian police officers cannot obtain state Peace Officer Standards and Training Board certification without a mutual aid agreement with counties.
That board requires officers to work for or under authority of a state recognized city or county to qualify for a POST license.
Currently, Leech Lake officers may enforce regulatory laws on band members on the reservation, but may only assist county or city officers as any other citizen may.
Baird said he views the proposed mutual aid agreement at this time as a traffic enforcement agreement, not a law enforcement agreement.
He proposes tribal and county officers would stop either band members or non-band members on the reservation only for regulatory offenses, with Indians going to tribal court and non-Indians going to county court to answer charges.
Since Leech Lake officers began patrolling on the reservation, about 200 Indian people have been referred to tribal court, Baird said.
He showed a map and chart to indicate why he believes the reservation department does not have enough manpower at this time to cover criminal as well as regulatory laws.
Sheriff's Medure and Dowson, however, said that because both counties are so large, their deputies are assigned larger square mile districts than tribal officers.
"I wish traffic was all we had to do," Dowson said.
The sheriffs agreed Leech Lake officers have assisted their deputies with criminal cases since the reservation department opened, despite the fact those police officers cannot make criminal arrests.
"The issue is not whether deputies and (Leech Lake police) can work together in the field," Medure said.
Cass Commissioner Virgil Foster called for information about agreement details other reservations and counties have.
Because the enforcement agreement between Minnesota DNR officers and tribal DNR officers did not work until both agencies fully cross-deputized their personnel, Foster said he does not believe mutual aid between sheriff's departments and the reservation police will work either without full responsibilities for both.
County attorneys, sheriffs, county administrators and other county administrative personnel have been meeting for more than a year with tribal administrative personnel to iron out insurance liability and other legal details for a mutual aid agreement.
Only the issue of which laws will be enforced remains.
Baird said he will try to obtain copies of other reservation agreements and will set up a meeting between the tribal council and county boards to try to reach an agreement.
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