COPS Office Grant Funds Historical Tribal, Local, and State Information Sharing Project in California

Sycuan Tribal Police DepartmentOn September 16, 2014, Sycuan Tribal Police Department’s officers, all of whom are commissioned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Office of Justice Services as special deputy officers, were approved to access the state’s robust law enforcement telecommunications system, the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS)—a first in the state. The tribe’s police officers were also approved for access to a regional information sharing system—Automated Regional Justice Information System (ARJIS)—earlier in the year. Tribal law enforcement has been trying to gain access to CLETS, in what has been a contentious issue at times, for over a decade in an effort to provide better officer and public safety.

The hurdle that tribal law enforcement had been contending with was found in the state’s government code, where the code states that a CLETS eligible law enforcement program must be a public agency (i.e., municipal, county, state, or federal). Nowhere in the code does it mention tribes or their respective agencies being defined as “public.” It is important to note, however, that although the state did not allow access to CLETS, the Federal Government allowed the Sycuan Tribal Police Department and other qualified tribal law enforcement agencies to have access to federal systems such as the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

The resolution—the BIA, the California Office of the Attorney General (OAG), and the Sycuan Police Tribal Department put their collective minds together to find a solution to this very important public safety issue. The BIA, as a public agency, applied to the California Department of Justice for its commissioned officers at Sycuan to be given access to CLETS via the Sycuan Tribal Police Department’s terminals and patrol vehicle’s mobile digital communicators (MDC). The application went through an extensive review process, and in August 2014, the California Department of Justice recommended the application be approved by the state Attorney General’s CLETS Advisory Committee.

But before the application could be approved, the CLETS policies, practices, and procedures had to be amended to read that law enforcement officers who are not federal, state, or other governmental employees but are exercising powers on their behalf by virtue of being deputized by a federal, state, or local criminal justice agency, and who meet the state peace officer training requirements, do indeed qualify for access. At a special CLETS Advisory Committee meeting in September 2014, the amended policy was approved, and at the same meeting, the BIA’s CLETS application for Sycuan’s commissioned police officers was approved unanimously.

While the CLETS application was being reviewed, Sycuan Tribal Police Department, with support from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, also applied for access and membership to ARJIS—a joint powers agency governed by local police chiefs and the sheriff. In February 2014, ARJIS approved the Sycuan Tribal Police Department as a member agency.

Because of strong support from the leadership of the BIA, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, the California OAG, local municipal police departments, and the Sycuan Tribal Government, the Sycuan Tribal Police Department now has the ability to input and query multiple robust information systems— local systems with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, regional systems with ARJIS, and state and federal systems with CLETS. It is also very important to note that the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) recognized the importance and worthiness of this project by funding all hardware, software, and applications via the Consolidated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS).

Chief Bill Denke
Sycuan Tribal Police Department

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