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New law eliminates confusion of jurisdiction on Oklahoma tribal - KOAM TV 7

New law eliminates confusion of jurisdiction on Oklahoma tribal land

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A new law in Oklahoma gives tribal officers more power when dealing with non-Indian members on their land.

A lot of people don't know that without an agreement with the state, tribal law enforcement do not have authority to enforce state law on Indian country.  But thanks in part to the tribal and municipal police chief in Wyandotte, Oklahoma, House Bill 1871 will soon change.

With several thousand tribal and non-tribal individuals coming in and out of the Quapaw Tribe's land to play at Downstream Casino, its director of security says dealing with jurisdiction when crimes occur has been tricky.

"There's always been questions of jurisdiction, especially in our situation where we sit in three states," says Bill Goodwin, the Security Director of Downstream Casino.  "So with this new law it would allow the tribal officers to come in and enforce state laws on tribal trust land in Oklahoma."

Tribal code does cover everything state law does but it does not apply to non-Indians, and Wyandotte Tribe Police Chief Ken Murphy says that is the problem House Bill 1871 seeks to fix.

"A domestic situation occurring at a casino, on Indian country, and they were both non-Indians, tribal police does not have jurisdiction over that crime, or those individuals - this law corrects that," says Murphy.

Currently, tribal police arriving on scene at situation like in Murphy's example would have to call an officer of the state, like a sheriff to make arrests and work the crime, wasting time and man power.

"That tied up resources from both agencies and actually prolonged the response time to the victims, and that's what we were initially trying to correct, is more unified response to the victims," says Murphy.

Goodwin says he thinks the change will make a big difference.  He says eliminating the question of jurisdiction and recognizing tribal police as state peace officers will help to unify the process on tribal land in Oklahoma.

"We have a great working relationship with all the tribal, federal, state officers, and this is going to make their life much easier," says Goodwin.

Governor Fallin signed the bill into law this week and also recognizes tribal officers as 'peace officers' by the state of Oklahoma.  It will take affect November 1.

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