Setting record straight on tribal casino safety

David Collins' March 26 column, "Good times for bad guys at Connecticut casinos" - regarding state police presence at the two casinos owned by Mohegan and Mashantucket tribal governments - was misleading and the record needs to be set straight.

Connecticut State Police continue to patrol the two casinos and adjacent hotels, parking lots and retail areas 24 hours a day. A commanding officer and troopers continue to be assigned to both the casinos

The longstanding "Casino Unit" has been disbanded in anticipation of the two tribal police departments obtaining full police powers, pursuant to a statute enacted by the General Assembly in 2013. The law requires the commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, together with the Office of the Chief State's Attorney, to jointly enter into an agreement with each of the two tribal governments. Those negotiations have been underway and the final agreements are imminent.

In the meantime, there is full law enforcement coverage at the two casinos. They continue to process all arrests, including those initiated by the two tribal police departments. In the past, tribal police officers made arrests, wrote reports, and detained arrestees. State troopers then took custody of those arrestees and completed the final booking process for state courts. In the very near future tribal police officers will also handle that final step.

The vast majority of the arrests at the casinos involve misdemeanors like breach of peace, shoplifting and fighting. In 2012, there were only four arrests for violent felonies at Mohegan and three at Mashantucket.

Under the new agreements, state police will retain full jurisdiction over the two reservations, including all of the casino property. In fact, the new agreements will resolve issues that have created obstacles for Connecticut law enforcement officials and for their investigations in the past. Plus, each of the two tribal police departments has approximately 25 fully certified police officers. Virtually all of those officers are retired municipal and state police.

Over the last few years, we have made tremendous strides in promoting awareness of tribal sovereignty and, in the process, developed a strong relationship with the two tribal governments. The two impending agreements will further strengthen that relationship and will insure that the tribal police abide by all state laws and regulations governing police officers in Connecticut.

Bottom line - the casinos are safe, and the policies in place now are designed to keep them that way.

Mike Lawlor is under secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning in Connecticut.

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