Tribal Liason Unit: Liason Alex Tortes, Lt. Ray Wood, Investigator Josh Adams, and Deputy Cindy Pierce
Among California’s 58 Sheriff’s Departments there are many specialized units that apply the community policing philosophies. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Tribal Liaison Unit, however, has set itself apart and created a program that is now looked upon as a model throughout the state of California for policing Native American communities. The Tribal Liaison Unit’s program could be best described as a program committed to education and partnership building in the twelve sovereign Native American Nations situated within Riverside County, with the goal to improve the quality of life and public safety on each of the Indian reservations the Department serves.
In 2008 the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department realized that the level of service being provided on each of the Indian reservations it serves was not acceptable and that Department partnerships in Indian Country were basically non-existent. The poor level of service being provided resulted in a very negative perception—and a lack of trust—of the Sheriff’s Department in Indian Country. Consequently, the Tribal Liaison Unit was created and given the mission of building trust and partnerships between the Department and the tribal communities.
To accomplish its mission, the Tribal Liaison Unit began by establishing communication with the tribal governments of each reservation to identify their needs and concerns. These initial contacts revealed that most Native American communities had a limited understanding of the California Criminal Justice System as well as limited interaction with law enforcement. This limited understanding, coupled with the historically harsh treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. government, caused feelings of mistrust, fear, and resentment of the police presence in Indian Country. To address this problem, the Unit created a training course for Native American communities. Following its first presentation, the Unit was overwhelmed with requests for this training from the tribes. After several presentations, the understanding and trust of the Sheriff’s Department by each of the tribes has greatly improved.
The Unit also realized that the reverse was true—that there was a lack of training and understanding of Indian Country by Department personnel, as well as law enforcement officers all across California, in regards to the historical, cultural, and legal aspects of policing Indian Reservations. The lack of training and understanding had resulted in confusion, hesitation, and numerous mistakes by Department personnel providing service in the Native communities. The Unit created and implemented a training program for the entire Department to improve the knowledge and abilities of personnel who provide service in Indian Country. The training resulted in an increased ability of the entire Department to better understand Native American communities, and caused a significantly improved level of service on the reservations. The community policing philosophy on Indian reservations has been integrated throughout the entire Department by the Tribal Liaison Unit, creating a better Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
The Tribal Liaison Unit collaborated with the Native American Communities to address the lack of knowledge and understanding by both sides, and to form partnerships to address public safety concerns on the reservations. The end result has been positive changes in Department service and an improved quality of life in Riverside County’s Indian Country.
-Lyndon “Ray” Wood, Lieutenant
Riverside County Sheriff’s Department
Tribal Liaison Unit
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