After a five-year absence, Washington State Patrol troopers are again doing traffic patrols on the Yakama Nation reservation.
Troopers returned to the state highways that cross the sprawling reservation Friday, ending a five-year hiatus as issues surrounding the return of law-enforcement authority to tribal police were worked out.
While the State Patrol announced last year that an agreement had been reached to resume patrols, details required more discussion, said WSP spokesman Sgt. Darren Wright.
“Things had to be put in place between the players,” Wright said. “We’re at the place where we can do it.”
In 2016, the Yakama Nation was given back much of its criminal and civil jurisdiction over tribal citizens within the 1.3 million-acre reservation. It reversed the state’s assumption of criminal enforcement over the Yakama, part of a national effort in the 1950s to terminate federal regulation of Native American tribes.
While the Yakima County sheriff’s deputies and police officers in Toppenish, Wapato and Union Gap were granted Special Law Enforcement Commissions that would allow them to detain tribal citizens in the course of their duties, the State Patrol cut its routine patrols over concerns about liability and jurisdictional issues.
Troopers have continued to respond to calls where their assistance was requested and they had jurisdiction. In the five years since retrocession took effect, troopers responded to 1,034 calls for collisions, 580 public assistance calls and 2,000 requests to assist with investigations on the sprawling reservation.
The negotiation process was mired in discussions about what legal authority troopers would have, as well as any protection from liability when they were operating on the reservation.
Former Yakama Nation Tribal Chairman JoDe Goudy cited the State Patrol’s lack of patrols as a factor in his decision to declare a public safety crisis on the reservation in 2018.
WSP will be patrolling three state roads within the reservation — U.S. Highway 97 from the south side of Satus Pass to Ahtanum Creek, State Route 22 from Interstate 82 to Mabton, and State Route 223 from the intersection with State Route 22 to the reservation border, a distance of 2 miles.
(Editor's note: This story has been changed to correct the spelling of Satus Pass.)