State backs tribal police at Foxwoods
Hartford - The resignation of the Mashantucket Pequots' police chief and allegations of mismanagement will not stop a plan for the tribal department to become the leading law enforcement agency inside the Foxwoods Resort Casino, an official in the administration of Connecticut's governor said Thursday.
Benjamin Barnes, the state's budget director, said it may take longer than expected to ensure that tribal officers meet required standards, but the government is committed to a conditional agreement that would have them replace troopers from the state police casino unit.
"It's possible recent events will make it take more time to get there, but that doesn't dissuade us from our ultimate goal," Barnes said.
The resignation of the tribe's police chief, Daniel Collins, was reported on May 31 by The Associated Press, which cited two anonymous tribal government employees. Hours earlier, the AP published a story in which former employees said the department took orders directly from tribal council members and that officers were blocked from pursuing investigations. The ex-officers also said the department is so short-staffed it can barely manage to patrol the tribe's tiny reservation in southeastern Connecticut, let alone the largest casino in North America.
A spokesman for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns and operates Foxwoods, has not responded to requests for comment on the chief's resignation and the status of security discussions with the state.
The Pequots, who are struggling with more than $2 billion in debt, requested the expanded role for their own police department to reduce the millions of dollars they have to reimburse the state each year for security coverage. Foxwoods and the rival Mohegan Sun casino, which operate on sovereign tribal land in rural southeastern Connecticut, are required to cover costs for troopers, liquor control agents and other state-provided security under compacts signed with the state in the 1990s.
The president of Connecticut's state police union, Andy Matthews, said change entails potential risks for public safety. He said it would be unwise to hand over law enforcement to the tribe in charge of a casino that receives tens of thousands of visitors daily.
"We've heard from our members that high rollers get special treatment. High rollers don't get special treatment when state police are there," Matthews said.
"We treat everyone equally. I would argue that might not occur when a tribe gets to oversee itself."
The state of Connecticut already has reduced the security bill conditionally for the Pequots, but officials say tribal police will need to obtain certifications that are lacking and demonstrate proficiency to the state before the agreement is finalized.
Barnes said the allegations about the influence of tribal leaders on the police force are concerning, but officials are confident they can be addressed to the state's satisfaction. He said the final agreement with the tribe had been expected to take more than a year and there is time to work through such issues.
"We would need to establish they are an independent police agency that was capable and positioned to enforce the laws of the state of Connecticut," said Barnes, who added that other police departments across the state also have to report to political officials. "It's a challenge police departments across the state deal with all the time, even state police."
Barnes also said the state wants to respect the Pequots' sovereignty.
"They are an independent nation," he said. "I am keenly aware of the importance that we respect the sovereignty these nations enjoy."
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