Tribal Police Cars are Symbols of Community Policing and Unity

image of tribal medicine wheel hybrid patrol car

Tribal Medicine Wheel on new COPS funded hybrid patrol cars.

In the fall of 2008, the Upper Midwest Community Policing Institute (UMCPI) and the Community Safety Institute (CSI) funded by a Community Oriented Policing Services (the COPS Office) grant partnered together to bring the Native American Training Series (NATS) to the Penobscot Indian Nation in Maine. Utilizing culturally acceptable, Native American-based training, the NATS program taught tribal law enforcement officers and community leaders the foundational principals of community oriented policing and problem solving, thus beginning a new chapter in the tribe’s community policing implementation.

From those humble beginnings, Chief Robert Bryant empowered his officers to partner with community members on a wide variety of programs designed to reduce crime and disorder on the reservation and enhance police–community relations. As the Penobscot community policing effort expanded, Chief Bryant applied for and was awarded a 2009 COPS Tribal Resource Grant. In June 2010, when UMCPI/CSI returned to provide law enforcement officers and educators with the new school-based NATS II training program, the Chief was ready to showcase not only his community policing efforts but the important linkages that had been established on this tribal reservation located on Indian Island in the middle of the Penobscot River.

image of Chief Bryant standing in front of hybrid patrol car

Chief Bryant proudly displaying one of his new his eco-friendly COPS cars.

Throughout the country there are many examples of community policing in action, but there is probably no better illustration than the new COPS funded, hybrid police cars that patrol the Penobscot Nation. Not only are these vehicles eco-friendly in an environment which values nature, but even the paintings on the cars actively demonstrate to the community that “the police are the public and the public are the police.”

As a visible manifestation of community policing on the Penobscot reservation the new police vehicles are uniquely adorned with tribal symbols such as the Penobscot Medicine Wheel and Tribal Logo instead of the traditional police badge used by so many law enforcement agencies. “We wanted the citizens of our community to know that these were their vehicles, and made a conscious decision to remove our standard police badge,” says Robert Bryant, Chief of Police of the Penobscot Nation. “We don’t need divisiveness and we work on a daily basis to promote unity,” the Chief continued. The vehicles and their unique design schemes demonstrate both the organizational transformation and the partnership-building between the police and the citizens that has occurred since the advent of Penobscot’s community policing effort.

The Chief’s new COPS vehicles are scoring points with both environmental activists and tribal members, but he is also pleasing the Tribal Council’s financial officials as well. Because the speed limit on the tribal island reservation is 20 MPH, and the eco-friendly hybrids don’t engage the gas engine until approximately 25 MPH, rarely are the vehicles in the gas mode, thus saving the nation over 1,800 gallons of gas per year and helping this environmentally conscious community to keep cleaner air over their reservation.

The new hybrids are Toyota Camrys and Highlanders that achieve approximately 40 miles per gallon, compared to the old police vehicles that averaged 12-18 MPG. It is also important to note that the entire police fleet is now hybrids—all old vehicles were replaced with the hybrids—so this is not just one test car or “community policing car” but is reflective of a paradigm shift in the department. Before Chief Bryant ordered the vehicles, he discussed the plan with his staff and answered their questions and concerns to ensure their support of his efforts. As the new vehicles were rolled out and officers began to utilize them, they realized that the hybrids were beneficial in many ways. For example, operating on batteries only for most of their use on the reservation also means that the vehicles are near silent for most of the time, allowing additional opportunities for surveillance. The hybrids have been a hit not only with the community but also the officers who use them on a daily basis.

Utilizing COPS grant monies in a fiscally and socially responsible manner was as natural to Chief Bryant and his constituents as breathing, and just another visible manifestation of the police department’s commitment to tribal culture as well as community safety and security.

-John Matthews
Executive Director
Community Safety Institute (CSI) in Dallas, Texas

with contributions from

-Robert Bryant
Chief of Police
Penobscot Nation

-Matthew Lysakowski
Senior Social Science Analyst
The COPS Office

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