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Hartford — A bill authorizing the state's top public safety official to negotiate agreements establishing the authority of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal police departments won overwhelming support late Tuesday in the House of Representatives, which passed the measure 132-3.
House Bill 6373 now moves on to the Senate.
Under the proposal, the commissioner of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, a post currently held by Reuben Bradford, would enter into separate agreements with each of the tribes, subject to the chief state's attorney's approval. It's expected that such agreements would empower tribal police officers to arrest non-Indians on reservation lands, including Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, owned, respectively, by the Mashantuckets and the Mohegans.
Currently, tribal police may only detain non-Indian suspects for arrest by state police and prosecution in state court. Tribal police are authorized to arrest tribal members who are prosecuted in tribal court.
State and tribal police have had concurrent jurisdiction on the Mashantucket and Mohegan reservations since the 1990s.
The bill would also grant the public safety commissioner and the chief state's attorney joint authority to revoke the agreements, and specifies that members of the tribal police departments would have to undergo certification training by the Police Officer Standards and Training Council.
The legislature's Public Safety and Security Committee unanimously approved the bill in March, weeks after conducting a public hearing that elicited little opposition. The Government Administration and Elections Committee also approved the measure.
State Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, the public safety committee's co-chairman, said that once a tribal department's officers were POST-certified, the department would function as any municipal police department in the state does.
State Rep. Tim Bowles, D-Preston, asked whether the tribal police departments' jurisdiction would extend to state or local roads adjacent to tribal lands.
"I don't think they want to branch off any more than the property that they have unless there is a major accident where they have a mutual response to it," Dargan said. "It wouldn't be more than any of our other communities now."
The Mashantuckets' department, preparing for a greater role in policing the tribe's reservation, including Foxwoods, has added more than a dozen officers in the last year, most with decades of experience working for municipal police departments. Tribal Police Chief William Dittman has said all department members will soon be POST-certified.
All members of the Mohegans' police force are also expected to have the certification.
The legislation grew out of talks between Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration and the tribes. Both parties agreed to cut costs by reducing the state police presence at the casinos as tribal police became better trained.
A review of the bill by the state Office of Fiscal Analysis found that in each of the last four fiscal years, the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection incurred more costs related to law enforcement at the casinos than it received in reimbursements from the tribes.
Total costs incurred exceeded tribal reimbursement by $1.2 million in fiscal 2011 and by nearly $2.3 million in fiscal 2012, the office reported.
Editor's note: This version corrects the committee that state Rep. Dargan co-chairs.