Wyoming legislators at odds over expanding reservation police powers

RIVERTON, Wyo. – Granting increased powers of arrest to Wind River Police Department[WRPD] agents is a topic of debate among state lawmakers.

Laramie Boomerang reports interest in reviving a bill defunct since a 2013 proposal may empower police on Wind River Indian Reservation with legal ability to arrest non-native offenders on reservation lands. However, Fremont County Sheriff Ryan Lee and State Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, disagree with a change.

WRPD officers, who are commissioned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, have authority to arrest and cite Northern Arapaho or Eastern Shoshone tribal members. However, members of the federal force can only stop and hold offenders who are not enrolled tribal members, while they wait for state or county police agents to arrive to the scene and make arrests or citations.

“Due to the large area of coverage, (it is not) uncommon to wait an hour or longer for assistance from another outside agency to arrive on scene,” said WRPD chief Tony Larvie, who called the system of waiting for agents from another force to issue citations inefficient.

That large expanse of land, coupled with what Larvie called “the volume of activity” on the reservation, is one of the reasons Wyoming Highway Patrol[WHP] Col. Kebin Haller compels every trooper in the Fremont County area to earn federal law enforcement, or “select,” certification.

In addition, Haller and Larvie hope to take that cross-deputation one step further and ask the state to certify WRPD agents to enforce state laws, in addition to federal and tribal ones, so that tribal officers can cite non-enrollees on the reservation.

Wyoming Peace Officer Standards and Training requirements mandate fourteen weeks of training and study for state certification, but Haller and Larvie are hoping to boil that number down to two weeks or less using an equivalency recognition process.

Giving local police authority to federal agents, however, is not without consequences, said Lee, who emphasized law enforcement entities’ responsibility toward the people, and the regions, in which they keep the peace.

Lee said that the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Fremont County Sheriffs Office work well together and have for many years, and added that state certification has potential as a good force multiplier.

“However,” he said, “there’s one glaring issue, and that is, there’s no local control” when a federal police force has statutory authority over a community’s citizens:

“As a citizen, if you don’t like the way the sheriff’s office is running, there’s a process to change that, through election,” he said.

But in deputizing federal agents to enforce state laws, citizens face “1,900 miles of red tape between Fremont County and Washington D.C.” said Lee.

None of the sheriff’s deputies is select-certified to enforce tribal codes or federal laws on the reservation, but the agency is capable of assisting the WRPD as backup at the latter’s request.

With this mind lawmakers at a Wyoming Legislative Tribal Relations subcommittee meeting last month sought to revive a defunct 2013 proposed bill that would grant Indian Country agents inherent law enforcement authority over non-enrolled offenders, with no further training required.

Of the proposed “House Bill 27,” State Senator Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, said, “Just in full candor, I am dying to dust that sucker off.”

Legislators have not yet re-submit the bill but said they hoped to during the next interim period following the 2020 legislative session.

The bill got “tripped up, I will say, for political reasons,” said State Representative, Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander.

State Senator, Cale Case, R-Lander, added that the bill “caused a lot of angst here in Fremont County.”

“There’s some folks in the Riverton area that were really concerned about it, for really no reason,” he said.

Opposition to the bill, however, was rooted in the language of the Wyoming Constitution, according to State Senator Eli Bebout, R-Riverton.

“I was opposed to that before, and I still am,” Bebout said, adding that the sheriffs in each county are the clear law enforcement assignees of the state through the Constitution, and that not just enforcement, but funding as well, should remain localized.”

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Information from laramieboomerang.com

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