Proposed legislation would give more authority to tribal law enforcement

(Wind River Reservation, WY) – A bill designed to increase the authority of the Wind River Police Department (WRPD) by enforcing state traffic laws is slated to go before the 2021 Legislative Session.

Similar bills proposed in both 2013 and 2019 did not pass Wyoming Legislature. The two prior bills discussed by lawmakers would’ve allowed for tribal law enforcement to conduct routine traffic stops, sobriety checks, and make arrests on the reservation where they could not have otherwise.

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The 2021 bill is very similar to the 2019 bill with the main difference being Tribal Officers will need to undergo additional training to be certified as a Wyoming “peace officer.”

The issue faced with both prior bills from 2013 and 2019 were filled with much scrutiny in and around the reservation. State Senator Republican, Affie Ellis who is the chairwoman of the Senate Tribal Relations Committee and the first Native American and member of the Navajo Nation to serve in the Wyoming State Senate has attributed both the 2013 and 2019 bill not being passed to “tight dollars in Wyoming” and “fear from the community that BIA officers would be traveling throughout the state of Wyoming enforcing state laws.”

According to Senator Ellis this just simply isn’t the case, “the point is not to have BIA Officers going all around the state throwing people in jail” as they are only on Reservation land enforcing traffic violations, according to Senator Ellis.

Senator Ellis continued.

“Another solution to the problem would be to just hire more officers, even at the federal level to be patrolling The Wind River Reservation, or the other alternative to have County Officers patrolling Wind River, so this really is intended to be a helpful resource, as reservation roads tend to be less safe than roads located off reservations, and what makes those roads unsafe is high-level drunk driving and speeding combined.”

The 2013 bill garnered some excitement from tribal representatives according to Ellis, the bill harbored a following from both the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes at the time. According to Affie, the bill experienced some traction but would ultimately fade out of the House Judiciary Committee after many non-reservation residents pressed for the shut down of the proposed bill.

The 2019 bill experienced the same fate as the 2013 bill as it was ultimately voted out of legislative.

“Prior to the last tribal relations bill working session over Zoom where we went through it (past 2019 proposed bill) page by page and there weren’t a ton of substantial changes, (to the current 2021 proposed bill) we try to provide more notification for all law enforcement officers,” she said.

“If a BIA officer went through the training, there would then be some notification requirement for Fremont County and Hot Springs County Officers, they would then be made aware of a tribal Officer able to perform civil duties across deputizations.”

Under the proposed new law of 2021, the tribal police would be considered “peace officers” which means they will be expected to enforce all state and local traffic laws in their respective jurisdictions.

The full bill can be viewed here.

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