Meskwaki to put in place own police force

    Tama, Iowa (AP)

    The Meskwaki Tribe expects to have its own police force in place sometime in February, tribal leaders said.

    The move toward a six-member police department comes less than a year after the inception of a Meskwaki civil court.

    It hasn’t been an easy process, said Larry Lasley, tribal executive director.

    “We’ve made more progress in the last 9 to 12 months than the last 10 years,” Lasley said. “We are very near finalizing the contract with the chief of police.”

    Establishing its own police force would free the tribe from having to pay the Tama County sheriff’s office for law enforcement on the settlement.

    For the fiscal year ending in June 2006, the tribe agreed to pay $188,000 for up to 200 hours of patrol and service each month. The funds cover the expenses of 2.5 deputies, including benefits, training and other items, according to the most recent contract.

    In the 1990s, the office added three deputies to satisfy law enforcement contracts with the Meskwaki. Tama County Sheriff Dennis Kucera said the end of the agreement could lead to cutting positions in his office.

    The sharing agreement, Lasley said, contained unattainable expectations including the tribe’s desire to have a 24-hour-a-day patrol. With just a dozen law enforcement positions to cover all of Tama County, that type of patrol wasn’t feasible, he said, adding that some response times have been slow, and some calls haven’t been answered.

    According to tribal officials, the tribe will employ a chief and five additional officers, certified through the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.

    This is the first time the tribe will try to enforce its own laws.

    “Probably the most general reason is what would be continued promotion and preservation of our sovereign status and the authority to govern itself,” Lasley said.

    Although a tribal police force will cost more, Lasley said the benefits go beyond the dollars and cents.

    “It would be a more cost effective, a more community, or culturally sensitive, form of law enforcement,” he said.

    A U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing grant of $386,000 will help the tribe pay 75 percent of three officers’ salaries for three years; $160,000 will go toward equipment. The tribe will have to pay salaries in the fourth year.

    Lasley expects the tribe will pay half of the costs of the force in the long run, with the other half supported by federal funds.

    The tribe doesn’t plan to build a communications center or jail and will rely on contracts with other agencies for jail space and likely will route communications from Meskwaki calls through the county.

    Information: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

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