A bill to allow Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) police to ticket non-Native American speeders and drunk drivers on the Wind River Indian Reservation died in the House Judiciary Committee this year, even after months of painstaking work by the interim committee that wrote it.
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Advanced as a common-sense move to make law enforcement more efficient and the reservation a safer place, the bill enjoyed significant support in Wyoming’s law enforcement community. Officials from the Riverton police to the Fremont County Sheriff, Wyoming Highway Patrol and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Cheyenne told WyoFile that some version of the law would improve policing on the reservation and in the surrounding communities.
The BIA view
The Bureau of Indian Affairs police are likely to chuckle at Wyoming’s hesitation to expand federal law enforcement authority. In their view, the largest expansion of federal law enforcement has already happened — with the full support of the state.
“We’ve given all the state’s officers federal authority,” said William LeCompte, the assistant special agent in charge at the BIA’s office in Billings, Mont. That office is known as District 5, which serves Indian Country in Montana and Wyoming. “That’s what the Wyoming citizenry has to understand. There was already an expansion of federal law enforcement. It expanded to the state and local officers we deputized.”
The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapahoe tribes consented to deputizing state and local officers under Title 25 of the U.S. Code, LeCompte noted. That was necessary for highway patrolmen and county sheriff’s deputies to carry a second citation book. Now he wonders why it shouldn’t work both ways.
“It’s a win-win,” LeCompte said about cross-deputizing BIA officers. “I don’t know why anybody would ignore an opportunity to have more officers in the field. The point is that we’ve got to keep the community safe, regardless of people’s skin color.”
The proposed legislation came at a time when crime on the reservation has been under scrutiny from local and even national press. As outlets like The New York Timespointed to an increase in crime on the reservation, LeCompte, who helped train many of the new BIA officers, said the most telling fact about the crime increase was not the number of crimes reported but changes in how calls for service originated. As the number of officers rose during the past three years from six to nearly 30, including supervisory personnel, more officers initiated action on patrol. “Before the new officers arrived, we saw mostly citizen-generated calls for service,” LeCompte said. Only two or three officers were on duty. People called them when they needed police. “Nowadays, officer-generated calls are up. Officers on patrol see a situation, intervene and conduct an enforcement service.” Those calls include traffic stops, LeCompte said. The stage is set for more comprehensive law enforcement, but the Native community says it needs help from Cheyenne.