Tribal police poised to take over at region's two casinos

State police's presence at Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun will soon be limited to background checks and investigations, with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal departments handling all day-to-day law enforcement duties, state and tribal officials say.

Details of the shift in responsibility - driven largely by the tribes' desire to save money - will be spelled out in separate agreements each of the tribes has negotiated with the commissioner of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.

"We're acting as if it's already in effect," Chuck Bunnell, the Mohegans' chief of staff, said Tuesday of the "memorandum of understanding" his tribe expects to sign with the state. "At this point, it's a formality."

The Mashantuckets are ready to make a similar transition.

"At present, the tribe is awaiting final approval from the state," Bill Satti, the tribe's director of public affairs, said in a statement. "The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Police Department is poised to take over policing duties at the casino with fully staffed and trained peace officers."

State and tribal police have shared jurisdiction on the tribes' reservations, including the casinos, since the 1990s.

Both the Mohegan Tribe and the state are comfortable with the "significant presence" the Mohegan tribal police have been maintaining at Mohegan Sun, Bunnell said. And while state police may keep an office in the casino and deploy officers there from time to time, the Mohegans are no longer under any obligation to pay for them, he said.

The tribes, however, will have to pay state police for the background checks and investigations they conduct.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's revised budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins July 1, contains no reimbursements from the tribes for state police coverage. As recently as the 2011 fiscal year, such payments totaled $7.3 million - $3.9 million from the Mashantuckets and $3.4 million from the Mohegans.

The two tribes' combined payments dropped to $4.7 million in fiscal 2012 and to $4.2 million in fiscal 2013.

Late last year, after the General Assembly authorized the transition of law enforcement duties at the casinos by passing Public Act 13-170, the state negotiated tribal payments in fiscal 2014 totaling $1.2 million - $600,000 from each tribe.

The DESPP is expected to redeploy the 27 troopers and two administrative personnel now assigned to the State Police Casino Unit.

Once the state-tribe agreements are in place, tribal police will be able to arrest non-Indians on tribal lands, including the casinos, and deliver them to state authorities for prosecution. Currently, tribal police can only "detain" non-Indians for arrest by state police.

Under the agreements, state authorities also will accept tribal police reports as official records of arrest. In turn, the tribal police departments will abide by "certain standards," Bunnell said, including state freedom-of-information requirements regarding media access to arrest logs.

Both tribal departments are staffed for the most part by former state and municipal police officers, and virtually all of them have been certified by the state Police Officer Standards and Training Council.

"We have expended a great deal of money to increase tribal policing, so it's not like we're saving $3 or $4 million dollars," Bunnell said. "But our savings will be significant. … Both the state and the tribe are finding efficiencies."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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