Expanded powers sought for Conn. tribal police

Sunday February 24, 2013

HARTFORD, Conn. -- For decades, chief state’s attorney Kevin Kane has opposed expanding the powers of police for the state’s two gambling tribes, citing differences between the laws of Connecticut and those of the Mohegan Tribe and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.

But Kane now supports legislation to allow tribal police to arrest non-Indians. What’s changed, he said, is the willingness of the tribes behind Mohegan Sun and the Foxwoods Resort Casino to enter into agreements to adhere to state laws and policies.

"If the tribal police departments comply with state laws and recognize their obligations to enforce state laws, this would confer arrest powers on them," said Kane, who has led the Division of Criminal Justice since 2006. "The tribes have had a lot of discussions over the last year, and there is more momentum and willingness to do this than has existed in the past."

The legislation, proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration, is an example of how the tribes, which have been struggling through slumps in gambling revenue, have worked with the state to find ways to ease their financial burdens. By winning authority to carry out tasks typically reserved for state troopers, the tribes reduce the need for state agents at the casinos where their salaries have to be covered by the tribes.

Tribal police currently are allowed to arrest members of federally recognized tribes but can only detain nontribal members for arrest by state police. Tribal and state police both have jurisdiction over the reservations and the two mammoth casinos.

For approval of expanded powers, the tribes will have to agree to recognize and follow state laws covering the Freedom of Information Act, common arrest records and bans on racial profiling.

Chuck Bunnell, a spokesman for the Mohegans, said the tribe’s willingness to enter such an agreement does not reflect a concession, but rather an affirmation of tribal sovereignty.

"Sovereignty is the right to make the decision whether you enter or don’t enter into the agreement," Bunnell said.

Officials from the state and local police departments joined tribal officials testifying in favor of the proposal at a hearing Thursday.

"We have to be careful with our money now. Things are getting tougher and tougher," said Jackson King, an attorney for the Pequots. "The administration has been very realistic and very cooperative, as has the state in general, in recognizing that we have new competition out there and it’s in our best interest to have Foxwoods and Mohegan as flourishing employers in the state of Connecticut."

Andy Matthews, the president of the state police union, opposes the legislation. He said there are issues of public safety to consider in shifting authority away from state troopers, whose numbers at the two casinos have dropped in recent years from 39 to 21.

"You can’t have tribal police who are appointed and supervised and report to the tribal council regulating the gaming floor," he said. "It’s like allowing a private corporation to have their own police department."

The tribes say their officers have or are pursuing the same certification as other law officers around the state.

The proposed legislation would allow the commissioner of public safety to enter agreements with the tribes spelling out the role of their police forces.

Kane, who would have to sign off on the new agreements with the tribes, said the proposal could help eliminate duplication of efforts. If a tribal police officer stopped a drunk driver in a casino parking lot, for example, he said a state trooper would have to respond to process the arrest.

"We seem to have brought about potential for a solution which seems to me to be pretty good," he said.


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