COPS Office Visits Southern California Sheriffs and Tribes

COPS Office Visits Southern California Sheriffs and Tribes

In mid-March 2012 the COPS Office Director, Bernard Melekian, Chief of Staff Rebekah Whiteaker, and Senior Advisor for Tribal Affairs Matthew Lysakowski, along with representatives from the United States Attorney’s Offices, visited several sheriff’s offices and tribal police departments in Southern California. The purpose of the visits was to examine the relationships and partnership efforts between tribal and non-tribal law enforcement agencies in a Public Law 280 (PL 280) state.

Passed in 1953, PL 280 transferred criminal jurisdiction in Indian country from the federal government to state government in several states, including California. Because the state has criminal jurisdiction in PL 280 states, it is imperative that tribes, state law enforcement, and local law enforcement (i.e., sheriff’s offices and local police departments) work together to address public safety issues in Indian country. The COPS Office is working to identify the challenges tribes face in PL 280 states and promote promising practices of partnerships between tribal and non-tribal agencies.

As part of the trip, the COPS Office visited the San Diego Sheriff’s Office, Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation Police Department, Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians Police Department, and the Riverside Sheriff’s Office. The visit to the Riverside Sheriff’s Office included meeting with several of the tribes in Riverside County, including the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, Colorado River Indian Tribes, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, and Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians. The meetings included numerous executives and command staff from the sheriff’s offices, tribal police departments, and tribal councils. Several themes and common topics arose throughout the site visits, including the following:

  • Trust and Relationship Building
    One of the frequently mentioned themes during the meetings was the need to build trust and relationships between tribal communities and agencies and local law enforcement. One way to get to know each other and build trust over time that the San Diego Sheriff’s Office has embraced is hosting quarterly meetings with tribal government representatives to discuss public safety issues. The Sheriff’s Office also hosts internal Tribal Issue Advisory meetings with staff that oversee areas of the county with tribal communities.

  • Training

    • The Riverside Sheriff’s Office has a unique training program to train both tribal communities and sheriff’s office staff. The Sheriff’s Office’s Tribal Liaison Unit, which is committed to education and partnership-building in the 12 sovereign Native American Nations situated within Riverside County developed the training programs, which were the subject of a previous Dispatch article. The Tribal Liaison Unit’s training for tribal communities and sheriff’s deputies has received acclaim across the state, including being a finalist for the 2012 James Q. Wilson Award for Excellence in Community Policing.

    • An additional way to build trust and familiarity among officers within the tribal and non-tribal agencies is to conduct training together. The San Diego Sheriff’s Office and other sheriffs in the state, such as Mendocino County, have begun partnering with tribal law enforcement agencies to conduct mutual training in a variety of areas—e.g., firearms qualification and vehicle stops. Providing the opportunity for officers to get to know one another and also know that they have been trained and will respond in similar fashions during incidents can go a long way in promoting trust on an individual level.

  • Contracting and Grants
    Another topic of discussion was the contracting of additional law enforcement services and COPS Office grants. Partly as a result of the recent recession, many law enforcement agencies throughout the nation are considering consolidation, regionalization, and/or contracting of law enforcement services. For some small communities, including tribes, it may not be feasible to establish or maintain a law enforcement agency or there may be an interest to supplement tribal law enforcement with contracted sheriff’s deputies, or local or other tribal police officers. Contracted services might include additional law enforcement services beyond the basic level of service that is usually provided to include resident or community policing deputies/officers that may be able to work more closely in partnership with tribal communities to solve public safety problems. Under the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (see, the COPS Office allows tribal applicants to request funding for additional law enforcement officers and equipment for their own agency and/or to supplement contracts for law enforcement services.

The COPS Office is also committed to working with tribal law enforcement, particularly in California, regarding other issues that arose throughout the meetings—such as access to the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS) for tribal law enforcement personnel and exploring the potential for tribal law enforcement officers to be designated as state peace officers if they meet the appropriate training standards and requirements.

The COPS Office will continue to look for ways to foster relationships and partnerships between tribal and non-tribal law enforcement agencies in both PL 280 and non-PL 280 states in order to advance community policing. Working together to solve problems is the essence of community policing and building these relationships is an important effort of the COPS Office.

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