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Soboba tribe makes plans to create own police force, tribal court

The tribe has talked about creating its own police agency for years, but the idea has never materialized. By Jose Arballo Jr., SWRNN Friday, July 16, 2010

The Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians has taken the first in forming its own police department and judicial system to help oversee the reservation near San Jacinto, according to a longtime tribal councilwoman and a law enforcement liaison.

Rose Salgado said the tribal membership, which met over the weekend at its quarterly meeting, gave direction to the council that it find out what is necessary for the tribe to have its own police force. Salgado emphasized that no final decision has been made, but it was the “general consensus” among members that they wanted the tribe to have its own police.

Riverside County Sheriff’s Lt. Ray Wood, with the agency’s Tribal Liaison Unit, said the change could also include the formation of a tribal court that would act as a judicial branch to enforce tribal law.

The Soboba police agency and commission would enforce specific tribal laws separate from the state judicial system, Wood said. State law would continue to be enforced on the reservation.

The tribe has talked about creating its own police agency for years, but the idea has never materialized. The concept was pushed harder two years ago after a series of fatal shootings between some tribal members and deputies with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, which is responsible for enforcing laws on the reservation.

“It’s early in the process,” Salgado said by telephone.

The tribe has its own security force, but the employees have no authority to make arrest beyond that of civilians and they are not armed. Salgado said the tribal police would have the ability to make arrest for violations of federal crimes and tribal laws, since the reservation is federally recognized, and the officers would be able to carry firearms.

Whether the Soboba officers carry firearms would be up to the tribe to decide, Wood said.

The tribe would likely still have to contract with the Sheriff’s Department or other police agency for law enforcement services. Public Law 280 allows local police agencies to enforce state law on tribal lands.

“Public Law 280 would still apply,” Salgado said. “There was a feeling that we need more than what we have now.”

Over the decades, there have been numerous incidents involving disputes between tribal members and deputies, leading to calls for the tribe to form its own police force. In some cases, internal disputes could not be resolved, or the cost and requirements of federal officials stalled plans.

Salgado said a big factor will be cost, considering everything from training, determining the size of the agency and maintaining the force. She said no timeline has been determined, although the membership wanted specific details before a tribal election is held on the matter.


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