Published February 21. 2013 2:00PM Updated February 21. 2013 11:37PM
Hartford — State, local and tribal officials endorsed a bill Thursday that likely would lead to Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan police departments having the authority to arrest non-Indians on reservation lands, including at Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun.
Under the legislation, proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration, the tribal departments likely would be accorded the same status as municipal police, proponents of the measure said. The bill would authorize the state's public safety commissioner to negotiate separate memorandums of understanding with each of the tribes, subject to the approval of the chief state's attorney.
Testifying at a public hearing, Mashantucket Pequot Police Chief William Dittman told the General Assembly's Public Safety and Security Committee Thursday that the proposed legislation would enable the state and the tribe to reach an agreement that would "provide the tribal police officers, working cooperatively with the state, the necessary authority to more fully address non-natives who commit crimes on the reservation."
Currently, tribal police may arrest tribal members who are then prosecuted in tribal court. They only may detain nontribal members for arrest by state police and prosecution in state courts. The agreements envisioned by the proposed legislation would enable tribal police to arrest nontribal members who then would be prosecuted in state courts.
State and tribal police have had concurrent jurisdiction on the Mashantucket and Mohegan reservations since the tribes opened Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, respectively, in the 1990s.
Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane told legislators he's long been opposed to granting tribal police full arrest powers but he now believes it's time to make the change.
"This is a good bill," Kane said.
Tribal police officers subject to the agreements likely would have to be certified by the state Police Officer Standards and Training Council, as do all state and municipal officers.
Joe Lavin, the Mohegan Tribe's executive director of public safety, said the Mohegan police department numbers 22 officers and will add four more as of April 1. All of them, he said, are or will be POST-certified.
Dittman, the former New London police captain hired last summer by the Mashantuckets, said the tribal department had 10 officers when he came on board, none of whom had POST certification. The force now has 20 officers, 11 with certification, he said.
The department's nine other officers are close to gaining certification, and seven POST-certified officers are in various stages of the hiring process, Dittman testified.
The Mashantucket department is expected to swear in a number of new officers as soon as today.
The state and tribes have been discussing changes in the policing of the casinos for more than a year, with both parties seeking to reduce costs and better allocate resources. They have agreed that the goal can be achieved by reducing the state police presence at the casinos as tribal police become better trained.
Public Safety Commissioner Reuben Bradford said state police would continue to maintain a presence on the casinos' gaming floors. Pressed by legislators, he said a total of six uniformed troopers would be deployed "24/7" at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, which includes MGM Grand at Foxwoods.
Michael Lawlor, undersecretary for criminal justice planning in the state Office of Policy and Management, said the proposed changes in policing on tribal lands would bring Connecticut into conformity with most other states where Indian-run casinos operate. He said the proposed agreements would require the tribes to adhere to all state laws and policies that apply to police, including the Freedom of Information Act and bans on racial profiling.
Several local police chiefs testified to the Mohegan department's readiness, including Stonington's Darren Stewart, Groton Town's Michael Crowley and Plainfield's Michael Surprenant. Jackson King, the Mashantuckets' general counsel, also spoke in favor of the proposed legislation.