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Wednesday, March 03, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Moving up in the ranks
By Jennifer Sullivan
W hen J.A. Goss took over the Tulalip Police Department two years ago, he inherited a tiny, inexperienced staff and officers mostly ignored by the community.
Goss had one fish-and-wildlife officer and three patrolmen. None of the officers had been through the state police academy, and the department relied heavily on the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office for backup and guidance.
Because the Tulalip department was new, patrolling an area that for decades had been the jurisdiction of the Sheriff's Office, his officers lacked credibility and community support.
But in just two years, the patrol staff has grown to 15. The agency now has four fish-and-wildlife officers, whose jurisdiction ranges far beyond the reservation, a fleet of new squad cars, three recently purchased boats and the beginning of a volunteer police corps. Many tribal members have come to recognize the department as the community's watchdog.
This week, in perhaps the most significant sign of the department's momentum, Goss plans to submit the names of eight tribal officers to Sheriff Rick Bart for consideration to be cross-commissioned as county sheriff's deputies. Bart will review the names, and if he deems them qualified, he will give them the power to arrest both tribal and nontribal members anywhere in the county the same authority as sheriff's deputies.
Tribal police are now sent to the 5-½-month state Criminal Justice Training Commission Academy, which provides them with the same training as most police in the rest of the state.
Money the Tulalip Tribes are bringing in from their new casino, shopping areas and other businesses even though the casino hasn't done as well as expected has allowed the tribes to pay for a better-trained police force, said state Rep. John McCoy, D-Marysville, a tribal member.
"The product that's delivered is a lot better," McCoy said.
That was precisely Goss' aim when he took over the department.
'People didn't trust them'
Bart remembers when he learned that the Tulalips were creating their police force: It was about five years ago, when he saw Francis Sheldon, then the tribal police chief, driving a new squad car. Bart, whose agency had solely monitored the reservation for decades, was uneasy.
Much of that unease was among the 8,000 nontribal members who live on the sprawling reservation. Until the mid-1950s, the federal government policed the reservation. At that point, the state of Washington took over, with some minor exceptions, and it became the responsibility of Snohomish County to provide law enforcement.
"People didn't trust them," said Bart, referring to nontribal members' concerns about the department. "They were fearful of what they were doing."
But, Bart said, his feelings have changed since meeting Goss and seeing the progress the department has made over the past few years.
"Two and three years ago, they didn't have respect in the police community," Bart said. " 'Jay' Goss has been working 24/7 to get them the respect they deserve."
Goss, 57, left his position as security manager at University of Washington's Tacoma campus to take over the Tulalip Police Department in January 2001.
"It was an exciting program that the tribes were setting up," said Goss, a former police chief on the Colville Indian Reservation in northeastern Washington. "It was building a program from the ground up and bringing it into functional operation."
On Nov. 21 of that year, the Tulalips officially took legal jurisdiction over certain police powers previously handled by the Sheriff's Office. This action, which is called a retrocession, meant that tribal police had the legal standing to handle almost all issues on the reservation involving tribal members.
Because of retrocession, the department can enforce criminal statutes and then, depending on the severity of the crime, refer cases to tribal or federal court. Cases involving nontribal residents have been referred to Snohomish County courts.
Goss said his agency can write speeding tickets and enforce other civil codes. The Sheriff's Office handles crimes committed by or against nontribal members and investigates all homicides, hostage situations and other major crimes that occur on the reservation.
Only until a tribal police officer is cross-commissioned as a sheriff's deputy or as a nontribal police officer can he or she arrest nontribal members. Tribal police do have the power to detain nontribal suspects until sheriff's deputies arrive.
Colville Tribes Police Chief Rory Gilliland, whose agency has had deputization agreements with sheriff's departments in Ferry and Okanogan counties for more than 20 years, said "it gives us jurisdiction over anyone on the reservation."
Gilliland said of the 29 tribal police departments in the state, only about a half- dozen are cross-commissioned. He said about 25 of his 29 officers have been deputized by both sheriff's departments.
"I think it's an issue of fairness," Goss said. "No one expects a criminal to take a free ride just because they are confronted by a tribal police officer."
Bart said Goss has pushed to have Tulalip police cross-deputized since he was hired. But he had declined unless the officers graduated from the state police academy.
Goss said all but three of his officers have graduated from the academy in Burien. He said the other three officers, who attended other police training facilities, are not among the names that will be submitted to Bart.
In order to be cross-deputized, tribal police officers must first pass a polygraph exam, background check and psychological examination.
"I think it's an issue of trust between two governments, the Snohomish County government and the tribal government," Goss said. "I think things are smooth and working well now but it's really just the essence of cooperation."
Bart now sees cross-deputizing tribal police as beneficial to both jurisdictions. It gives Tulalip officers more powers and it saves deputies a sometimes long drive into rural parts of the reservation to handle nontribal law enforcement.
"It's beneficial to have as many eyes and ears that I can have in this county," Bart said. "It gives them (the department) credibility in the police world."
Bart said the concept of cross-deputization has been controversial. He said other county sheriffs throughout the state have told him that they would never deputize tribal police officers, and his own staff has fought with him over the issue. He said some nontribal residents on the Tulalip Reservation have urged him not to do it.
"The feelings among some sheriffs in this state is that tribal police are inferior to their deputies," Bart said. "I fight with my staff on a weekly basis over it."
The issue continues to divide residents of the reservation.
Lorna Henry, 40, a Tulalip Tribes member who has lived on the reservation nearly her entire life, said cross-deputization is "a big mistake."
"It gives them (officers) too much power," said Henry, a mental-health worker. "They're not ready for it."
Henry said she won't call 911 because she doesn't trust the department. She said the officers are not trained well enough to become deputies.
"Do we support the tribe having their own police force? Absolutely," said Tom Mitchell, a co-president of the Tulalip Community Association, which is made up mostly of nontribal members. "The real question is, are those officers trained and certified to the same level (as sheriff's deputies)?"
Bart said he hopes to have a portion of the department cross-deputized before he retires in three years. He has already cross-deputized Goss.
"We're going to show the rest of the state that this works in Snohomish County," Bart said. "People need to give them a chance. Nobody's perfect, even deputy sheriffs."
When initial talks of cross-deputization surfaced in 2001, Bart said County Council members were concerned that the county could be held liable for any alleged misuse of Tulalip officers' new policing powers.
The county signed an agreement which guarantees that the Tulalip Tribes maintain an insurance policy if the department is ever sued for false imprisonment, false arrest, public liability, property liability and violation of civil rights. The policy caps off at $1 million per incident.
"Everybody's civil rights are being protected," McCoy says. "We want a safe community. They (the officers) are properly trained."
Report rates increase
Lorna Onsel worked as a flight attendant, a welder and a legal secretary before she became a Tulalip police officer. Onsel, a 42-year-old mother of two, now is a patrol officer and a member of the department's search-and-rescue dive team.
Onsel was among six officers hired last year after the tribes determined that they needed extra patrols for Quil Ceda Village, the Tulalips' shopping area just west of Interstate 5.
"It's a good community. The people are very generous," Onsel said during a recent patrol through the reservation. "You always have those few who don't like law enforcement anyway."
Onsel, a member of the Upper Skagit Tribe, said many Tulalips fondly call her "the cop from La Conner."
While patrolling the 22,000-acre reservation, Goss said, officers spend much of their time focusing on traffic. They watch for speeders, drunken drivers and equipment infractions.
"Criminals don't take care of minor things," Goss said. "They don't drive perfect cars."
Unlike other police departments, which boast when crime rates drop, Goss says the tribal department's increasing report rates are indicative of its good work. In the past, he said, some tribal members were reluctant to report crimes because they didn't think anything would be done.
Between 2001 and 2003, reports of aggravated assaults went from eight cases to 45. Reported burglaries went from 20 to 53. Reported vehicle prowls increased from 12 to 72. Tribal police reported there were two homicides on the reservation in 2001, one in 2002 and two last year.
Tulalip police arrested 60 drunken drivers in 2001 and 95 in 2003.They made 44 drug-related arrests in 2001, 291 last year.
Funded by tribes
Because the Tulalip Police Department is funded solely by the tribes, its personnel and equipment requests are almost always met. The Sheriff's Office competes with other county departments for its budget requests.
"Chief Goss keeps coming to me and asking me for more money," McCoy says. "That's the price of progress."
McCoy said the tribes are building a police substation at Quil Ceda Village that will house six officers. He said they are also going to build a new structure that will house the police and fire departments in the 7700 block of Waterworks Road.
He said Goss has requested that the tribes fund six additional patrol officers. McCoy said tribal police officers are paid comparably to county sheriff's deputies.
"We need to increase our law enforcement," said McCoy, who anticipates tribal population will increase from 3,500 to 11,000 in the next 20 years.
The tribes recently outfitted a retired Coast Guard ship for the police fish-and-wildlife division. They also purchased two smaller powerboats for the officers.
Officer Robert Myers, who has spent 19 years working for the tribes, said the fish-and-wildlife officers monitor Tulalip fisherman as they work throughout Puget Sound. They also check Tulalip tidelands for illegal clamming.
"The tribal-fisheries boats are out there ensuring the tribal fisherman comply with the law," McCoy said.
Fish-and-wildlife officers also monitor development on the shorelines to make sure landowners have proper permits. The staff members also work as animal-control officers.
Jennifer Sullivan: 425-783-0604 or email@example.com
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