Agreement with county clears way for Suquamish Police to enforce state law

SUQUAMISH — Suquamish police officers will soon be able to enforce state law no matter the suspect — non-Native and Native American — under a memorandum of understanding between the Suquamish Tribe and Kitsap County.

The agreement takes effect July 1.

Specifically, Suquamish police officers will have state authority to:

  • Issue state citations to non-Indians for state traffic violations on the reservation.
  • Pursue non-Indian traffic law violators and fleeing suspects past reservation boundaries.
  • Under certain circumstances, arrest non-Indians for state crimes committed on the reservation.

Non-Indians will still be tried in District or Superior Court, not Tribal Court.

The policing authority actually comes from the state by way of legislation that was developed by Suquamish Police Chief Mike Lasnier, who is not Native American. The legislation requires Tribal police officers to meet the same training standards as state and local police. And it requires the participating governments to come to agreement on the rules for exercising that authority.

On the Port Madison Indian Reservation, which has Native and non-Native residents, the issue of law enforcement jurisdiction has long been a challenge. According to a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court ruling — in a case that originated on the Port Madison Indian Reservation — Tribes, as domestic dependent nations, “do not have inherent criminal jurisdiction to try and to punish non-Indians, and hence may not assume such jurisdiction unless specifically authorized to do so by Congress,” as Congress did in its update of the Violence Against Women Act.

In an announcement of the Suquamish-Kitsap County agreement, sheriff’s Lt. Jeffrey Menge said a Suquamish police officer currently has the right to detain any person suspected of a crime, and to investigate any suspected crime on the reservation, but can not arrest or transport a suspect who is not Native American.

He cited DUIs as an example. A Suquamish police officer can stop and detain a person suspected of DUI on the reservation, but once they determine the suspect is non-Indian, the officer is required to wait for a sheriff’s deputy or state trooper to respond and finish the investigation. This can be a challenge for Kitsap County sheriff’s officers; there are only two assigned to North Kitsap.

Under the agreement, the Suquamish police officer will now be able to complete the entire investigation under state authority, including arrest and transport to county jail, thus eliminating the need to tie up other officers and duplicate efforts.

“It doesn’t take two cops to do the work of one cop,” Lasnier said in the agreement announcement. “Tribal officers and citizens have been stuck on the side of the road awaiting the arrival of a deputy, who in many cases was pulled away from a more serious investigation to come handle a minor offense.

“Two officers [currently] have to write reports, receive subpoenas and go to court at substantial cost to two different governments. These are low-level cases — traffic violations and misdemeanor property crimes. We want our deputies out there catching burglars and heroin dealers, not driving 20 minutes to write a suspended driver a citation we could have issued in 90 seconds.”

The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office will host an open house about the agreement at 5:30 p.m. June 22 at the Suquamish United Church of Christ, 18732 Division Ave. NE, Suquamish.

Training requirements

Suquamish police officers are governed by the same legal standards as county deputies, and meet the same state standards as other law enforcement officers in Washington: completion of the state’s Basic Law Enforcement Academy, or upon completion of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center curriculum, raining at the Washington State Equivalency Academy.

The Suquamish Police Department further requires four months of field training supervised by a senior field training officer, and a a minimum of 40 hours a year — more than the state’s 24 hours — of ongoing training.