Muscogee Nation wants police services to focus on prevention and law enforcement


The lighthouse police department is small – only 63 officers in total and a dispatch team. The Muscogee Nation is looking to hire more officers and prosecutors to respond to law enforcement requests. // Muscogee Nation

It’s a Friday night and the parking lot at the River Spirit Casino, near downtown Tulsa, Okla., Is already bustling with traffic and people are heading to the casino for a night out.

“The handcuffs represent law enforcement, but the rose is to show my softer side,” the Lighthorse Police Ofcr explained. Amy Bennett. She’s 48 with straight blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail and tattoos, including a pair of handcuffs with a rose threaded through both inked arms. She walks over to the first call of the night.

“The first is harassment,” Bennett said after broadcasting the radio saying it was heading towards Sapulpa, about 20 minutes from the River Spirit.

“This lady said she was being harassed by a male subject, so we’re going to go out there and see what happens,” she explained.

It turns out the man she called has already broken into her home and is afraid for her safety. Later, after completing the paperwork, Ofcr. Bennett calls a judge who issues a Victim Protection Order, or VPO.

Lighthouse officers such as Bennett now patrol 11 counties in Oklahoma. It’s a small police force – just 63 officers in total and a dispatch team – and the tribal nation is looking to hire more officers and prosecutors to meet law enforcement demands. This expansion is also seen as a way to interact differently with the community, especially in light of last year’s United States Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, and the national conversation around police reform.

“They can see what worked and what didn’t work,” said former US Attorney Trent Shores, who is a Choctaw citizen.

Shores oversaw hundreds of lawsuits after the Supreme Court ruling took effect.

“They can look at their own culture and experience and control Native American communities, I think it’s best to develop a community-driven police structure that focuses as much on prevention as it does on law enforcement,” he said. said Shores.

One of the tribal judges of the Muscogee Nation is Stacy Leeds. She says the discussion of how to control differently has been going on for years, even before the Supreme Court stepped in.

“I think many tribes deal with sentencing, treatment and family services in a slightly different way than you find in traditional justice systems.,“Leeds said.

Tribal nations, Leeds said, have a more holistic approach. In her role as tribal judge, she believes that institutions have more flexibility not to treat criminal complaints as an isolated incident. It’s about looking at the big picture.

“More often than not, when there is a criminal case, this family can also be in conflict. So there may be family law cases associated with the same parties, ”Leeds explained. “Maybe social services are provided on different platforms within the tribe.

The Muscogee Nation has also invested millions of dollars in mental health and domestic violence prevention programs – issues that Lighthorsemen constantly face.

But, with all of these services, there is a higher price tag. Jason Salsman, who works for the Muscogee Nation, says the federal government needs to step up.

“We say honor the trust responsibility to the tribes,” Salsman said of the need for the federal government to fully fund its justice system.

“That’s how the Supreme Court ruled.”

Muscogee Nation leaders recently spoke to members of Congress asking them to fully fund their tribal justice system.

Back on patrol, Ofcr. Bennett said she wanted to police differently. She is doing all she can to avoid lethal force and wants more officers to do the same.

“I don’t care how serious a person is, I don’t want to take them away from their family,” Bennett said.

For now, that means more training, more conversations, and more understanding between officers like Amy Bennett and her off-reserve law enforcement counterparts.

Copyright 2021 KOSU. To learn more, visit KOSU.

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