Senate approves bill that gives tribal police new powers

HartfordThe Senate on Saturday voted 30-4 in favor of a bill that would allow Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal police departments to establish authority and exercise law enforcement powers. The House has already passed the bill, and it now moves to the governor for his signature.

“It will help to better utilize state resources, to get as many state troopers back on the highways for the citizenry at large,” said state Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, a proponent of the bill (House Bill 6373).

Each tribe’s police department would have to enter into separate agreements with the state’s Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection commissioner, with the chief state’s attorney’s approval. Authorization would also be subject to whether the police officers are certified through the Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) program.

Hartley said state law enforcement protection for the tribes has cost more than expected. The services cost $1.2 million more than expected in 2011 and $2.2 million more in 2012, she said.

“It translated to significant overtime needs in terms of meeting the staffing considerations,” Hartley said. The tribes have their own police forces, and those forces are largely made up of retired police officers, who are seasoned and certified, she said.

State Sen. Jason Welch, R-Bristol, who voted against the bill, questioned why the state didn’t negotiate a better deal to have the tribes pay more for the law enforcement services.

The bill was a “common sense step to be able to take our resources and deploy them onto our highways,” Hartley responded.

State Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, said the tribes had been asking for this change for years, and they have been “raiding” local police departments to make sure they had the best police officers.

Tribal police departments would have arrest powers under the bill, Hartley said. Currently, the tribal police departments may only hold someone at the scene of an incident and wait for a state police officer to arrest the person.

Tribal court authority was not expanded in this bill. Non-tribal members cannot be tried in tribal court and will continue to be prosecuted in state court, Hartley said.

j.somers@theday.com

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