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Legislature grants tribal police expanded powers

Legislature grants tribal police expanded powers

Published: Wednesday, June 29, 2011, 4:21 PM     Updated: Wednesday, June 29, 2011, 7:26 PM

The legislature worked into the evening to narrowly approve a measure that grants tribal police officers the right to enforce state law off tribal lands, regardless of whether the crime originated on a reservation. If signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber, as he's indicated, Oregon will be the second state to enact similar legislation.

Currently, tribal officers can only enforce state law under very narrow circumstances such as resisting arrest or in pursuit of a suspect leaving the reservation or unless a tribal government formed an agreement with individual counties.

"If they stopped an assault, which they felt was within their duty to do, it would have to go all the way back to the supreme court to see if they could make that arrest," said Co-Speaker Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay.

Senate Bill 412 includes requirements for the officers to complete standard state police training and for the tribes to adopt rules "substantially similar" to Oregon law on public records, evidence retention and insurance. A 2015 sunset clause would give future legislators the opportunity to refine or repeal the measure.

"We're thrilled about the outcome," said Justin Martin, lobbyist for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. "And all Oregonians should be thrilled about the outcome because we're talking about more certified police officers on the ground protecting all people."

But Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, and others argued the bill needed more work.

Bentz said the state is asking for a lawsuit because the bill excludes a provision that would have required the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training to confirm the tribes were fulfilling the law's requirements.

"We need to make sure all our rights are protected whenever we expand police power," Bentz said.

Roblan supported the measure because court rulings do not require any of those safeguards for the few specific circumstances when tribal officers can enforce state law currently. The bill would remedy this, he said, even if it's done in good faith.

Others were uncomfortable with the idea of allowing tribal officers to enforce law off-reservation while federal law mandates that state officers only have jurisdiction on some reservations and other tribal lands require tribal consent.

"We are talking about two different governments and some of these (concerns) you cannot resolve so we have to move forward with trust," Roblan said.

-- Jayme Fraser

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