Mille Lacs Band denounces county decision to terminate law enforcement agreement
The Mille Lacs Band Reservation – Last week, the Mille Lacs County Board, with no prior warning or discussion, voted to end the cooperative law enforcement agreement between the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office and the Mille Lacs Band Tribal Police. The agreement, which first went into effect in 1991, had vastly improved law enforcement in the region, comprising the reservation and surrounding non-Indian communities, by leveraging the additional capabilities of the Mille Lacs Band’s 32 tribally funded POST-certified professional police officers, who supplement the County’s 29 officers. The County will be responsible for paying for and replacing police coverage that is lost because of its termination of the cooperative agreement.
“This decision puts politics ahead of public safety,” said Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin. The County cited its disagreement with a federal opinion, which concluded that the Mille Lacs Reservation still exists, as the primary basis for ending the law enforcement agreement. “At a time of escalating gang violence and drug activity in our communities, to intentionally reduce law enforcement presence in the County may not have been well thought out,” said Benjamin.
Since 2013, there have been more than 1,600 crimes on the Reservation, including murders, assaults, thefts and arsons. The Mille Lacs Band has been doing everything it can to combat this rising tide of crime that brings drugs and violence to the Reservation: working cooperatively with the County under the existing law enforcement agreement; participating in the intertribal Great Nations Gang and Drug Task Force in an ongoing effort to stop criminals from ‘Rez hopping’; and requesting and obtaining concurrent Federal jurisdiction on the Reservation through the Tribal Law and Order Act. Concurrent Federal jurisdiction will enable prosecution of the most dangerous criminals in Federal Court and ensure they receive the harshest sentences possible in federal prison.
“Our tribal police will continue to exercise our inherent law enforcement authority under Federal and Tribal law on our Reservation and respond to calls from Band members,” Benjamin said. However, if the County refuses to route 911 calls from non-Band members to Tribal police, response times may dramatically increase for northern Mille Lacs County residents who have come to depend on Tribal police. This action hurts these residents and all County taxpayers who will have to pay for additional deputies to respond to calls previously covered by Tribal police. Benjamin noted that the County has already tried to hire the Band’s Tribal police officers. “The County has a gang problem, a drug problem, a violence problem, and a funding problem, but rather than collaborating to fight crime, the County Board is gambling with the money and lives of all Mille Lacs County citizens, Indian and non-Indian.”
Mille Lacs Band Solicitor General Todd Matha added, “The Mille Lacs Band Tribal Police will continue to operate on the reservation, exercising Tribal and Federal authority. We continue to explore the possibility of exercising state law enforcement authority, even without the cooperative agreement. Unfortunately, the burden of the County decision will fall heaviest upon our non-Indian neighbors who have become accustomed to the rapid response of Tribal police.”