Mille Lacs County Sheriff Brent Lindgren and Acting Tribal Police Chief Sara Rice addressed Band members’ questions about law enforcement at the Jan. 11 District I Community Meeting.
Lindgren said the revocation of the county/tribal law enforcement agreement came not from him but from the Mille Lacs County Board.
Although he stated that he wants the county and band to reach a new agreement, Lindgren said it is his duty to uphold the law of the land.
District I Rep. Sandi Blake introduced Lindgren, saying the community is concerned about the revocation of the agreement at a time when the Reservation is dealing with overdoses, drug addiction, burglaries, Elder abuse and violence.
Lindgren started by thanking Sandi for the invitation. He said the problems faced in Vineland are the same as those faced throughout the county.
“Gangs and drugs and violence are everyone’s concern,” Lindgren said. “The increase in opiate abuse and overdoses — nobody’s a stranger to that in the county.”
After the revocation of the agreement, he reassigned deputies to increase patrols in Kathio Township. He also said deputies have been encouraged to notify Tribal Police when they are called to the reservation.
Later in the meeting, in response to a question from Shannon Nayquonabe, Chief Rice said tribal officers are not being notified in most cases.
When the law enforcement agreement was revoked, Lindgren requested an additional 10 deputies to help fill the need that resulted from the Tribal Police having their authorities reduced. The county board approved the request, but Lindgren said he has moved slowly in the process of adding deputies in hopes that a new agreement would be reached.
Lindgren said he would strongly recommend that Mille Lacs County enter mediation with the Mille Lacs Band to come up with a new law enforcement agreement.
“I don’t think anyone would dispute that we can do more if we work together,” Lindgren concluded.
Rep. Blake and Band members questioned Lindgren on several topics before the meeting was turned over to Chief Sara Rice.
Colin Cash asked how the county’s seven new officers could make up for the 25 Tribal Police officers whose authority has been reduced. “That’s a pretty big discrepancy,” he said. Lindgren repeated that he is moving slowly in the addition of officers in hopes that a new agreement can be reached.
Colin also asked about the level of cultural understanding of deputies vs. tribal officers. Lindgren replied that he has requested cultural training for his deputies as part of a new agreement.
Rep. Blake said the Band would be happy to help provide cultural training to county deputies.
Shannon Nayquonabe said tribal officers’ reports aren’t being submitted with county deputies’ reports. Lindgren said his sergeant is receiving the reports and forwarding them to the county attorney. Shannon, who works for Band Member Legal Aid, said the reports are not part of discovery and are not in the files.
Sandi asked about increases to Lindgren’s budget since the agreement has been revoked. He said there have been “significant increases” for additional employees, vehicles and equipment.
Melissa Boyd said there is a need for statewide cultural training of law enforcement officers. “I don’t disagree with that,” Lindgren said.
Curt Kalk asked several questions, including Lindgren’s position on the reservation boundary and his involvement in the decision to revoke the law enforcement agreement.
Lindgren said, “I didn’t know they were going to cancel it until after they canceled it.”
Curt repeated his question on the reservation boundaries. “You’re publicly elected,” he said. “We’d like to know your opinion.”
Lindgren repeated that his obligation is to follow the law of the land.
David Sam applauded Lindgren for coming to the meeting, especially given the confusing nature of the issues.
Bobby Eagle asked why the agreement was terminated. Lindgren said, “I have to refer you to the resolution agreement, what that says. That’s their decision, not my decision.” Lindgren remained in attendance at the meeting while Acting Tribal Police Chief Sara Rice talked about implementation of the Tribal Law and Order Act, which went into effect Jan. 1. She said the law would not bring drastic changes, but would allow law enforcement another tool to prosecute crime.
She said the crime statistics for the reservation area indicated the need for additional federal involvement.
“It’s a good thing for the tribe, but we’re also told there will only be a handful of cases that will go for federal prosecution,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important that we get back to the mutual aid agreement.”
She said Tribal Police have responded to 2,158 incidents since the agreement was revoked, and that they created a call center staffed 24 hours a day.
She said federal deputization of tribal officers will give them the ability to investigate major crimes on trust lands.
The County is working with the Tribal Police to come up with interim operating procedures under the Tribal Law and Order Act until a new cooperative agreement is in place.
Sara said the lack of an agreement limits the Tribal Police department in carrying out its duty to protect Band members. “We have the ability, but they don’t recognize us as state police officers,” she said. “It really hinders us from pursuing a true investigation. We have a responsibility; we took an oath to keep everybody safe.”
In response to a question on response time of deputies compared to Tribal officers, she said it depends, but that Tribal can usually respond to calls on the reservation in 30 seconds to two minutes.
Tony Pike asked about who would be at fault if someone dialed 911 and passed away waiting for the deputy to arrive. “It’s about the safety of the community,” he said.
Terry Kemper said the discussion implied that police are the answer to the community’s problems, but that isn’t the case. “We can’t rely on the police,” Terry said. “We as a community need to come up with something different to help us out with the drugs and alcohol. I’ve watched people turning their life around and telling their family ‘That’s enough of that.’”
Sandi agreed. “It’s every individual’s responsibility to call in and report drug dealers,” she said. “That heroin is taking people over. They’re throwing their life way.”