No longer will tribal officers have to watch as people whiz past them on the interstate or commit other crimes, thanks to a new law that gives them authority outside of tribal land.
Indian and community leaders gathered for a historic moment Friday when Gov. John Kitzhaber signed Senate Bill 412. It marked the first time a bill has been signed on a reservation.
The signing at the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians' tribal hall in Coos Bay was a great honor, Chief Warren Brainard said.
"I think it's great," said Tim Addleman, police chief for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. "It's an honor, and it's historically unique."
The bill increases tribal law enforcement officers' authority to encompass the whole state, not just reservation lands.
The new law also increases law enforcement capacity and safety for all Oregonians, especially during a time when budget cuts have limited resources, Kitzhaber said.
In Coos County, the nearest officer responds to calls, regardless of who they work for, Sheriff Craig Zanni said, adding the relationship between law enforcement agencies is excellent.
"Basically we really don't care what color uniform they're wearing," he said.
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Relationships might be good, but in expansive coverage areas with limited resources, response times can be lengthy and officers could only detain suspects for a reasonable length of time instead of arrest them, Addleman said.
Sometimes, officers couldn't do anything. Take for example when drivers sped past him on the interstate, he said.
Carmen Smith, chief of police for the Confederated Tribes at Warm Springs, deals with two counties his reservation is split between and is looking forward to the changes, which he says will make it easier to enforce laws.
When officers arrive at incidents like motor vehicle crashes with drunk drivers, domestic assaults and batteries, they'll be able to respond directly instead of waiting for a different agency to arrive, Smith said.
"This will benefit us to be able to take action now instead of having to wait," he said.
Reporter Alice Campbell can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.