TOPPENISH, Wash. — Responding to a spike in crime, Yakama tribal leaders have declared a public safety crisis on the reservation and are imposing harsher penalties for criminals, including loss of treaty fishing and hunting rights and even banishment from the tribe.
In a resolution approved this week, tribal leaders called on the federal government to better carry its law enforcement responsibilities and criticized the Washington State Patrol for not actively patrolling the reservation.
The resolution also said that exclusion — removal from the reservation — would be sought against non-tribal members who commit certain crimes.
Tribal leaders didn’t respond to phone calls and an email on Friday seeking comment.
State Patrol spokesman Kyle Moore said troopers stopped conducting routine patrols on the reservation because they no longer have authority over tribal members since that authority was returned to tribal police nearly two years ago under a process called retrocession.
However, the State Patrol continues to provide assistance to other law enforcement agencies on the reservation, such as the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, he said.
In a news release announcing the action, tribal leaders said there’s been rampant crime in White Swan, an unincorporated community deep within the reservation.
“This public safety crisis has been initiated to address the criminal activity taking place within our lands. The Yakama Nation is calling upon the United States to fulfill its trust fiduciary responsibility to our lands and people in addressing this crisis appropriately. We are also calling upon all jurisdictions to work together to ensure that all people Native and non-native alike are safe,” Tribal Council Chairman JoDe Goudy said in a news release.
White Swan resident Delores Martinez said she’s on edge because she rarely sees any police presence and burglaries have been frequent in the area.
“I’m extremely cautious — I’m on alert all the time,” she said. “I’m afraid for my dogs because (burglars) were poisoning and killing dogs just to get onto property.”
Tribal leaders in their announcement said the police substation in White Swan will be re-opened and staffed and that a curfew of 8 p.m. for minors will be enforced.
The tribal resolution comes nearly two years after Yakama authorities were given back much of the criminal and civil authority over tribal members, which had been taken away by the state in the 1950s.
Along with authority over tribal members, the nation was given some authority over non-tribal members who commit crimes against tribal members or who are victims of crimes committed by tribal members, said Yakima County Sheriff Brian Winter.
That didn’t sit well with the state Attorney General’s Office, which requested that the State Patrol stop patrolling the reservation, Winter said. The reservation is a mix of tribal and non-tribal land as well as tribal and non-tribal residents.
Brionna Aho, a spokeswoman with the state Attorney General’s Office in Olympia, said her office couldn’t comment on the matter because it represents the State Patrol.
Although the state patrol will assist county sheriff’s deputies on reservation cases that don’t involve tribal members, the agency isn’t patrolling portions of U.S. Highway 97 and State Route 22 that cut through the reservation, Winter said.
Now the sheriff’s office is relying on its traffic unit to patrol those roadways, Winter said.
“So, we’re trying to do everything we can to fill that gap left by the State Patrol,” he said.
Meanwhile, the tribe has seen a spike in property and drug crimes, stressing tribal police and the tribe’s jail, Winter said.
“Tribal PD is overrun and tribal jail is overrun,” Winter said.
But police in cities on the reservation — Toppenish and Wapato — as well as sheriff’s deputies continue to assist tribal police, he said.
In fact, tribal leaders recently approved allowing police in those reservation cities and sheriff’s deputies to be cross-deputized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs so they can stop and detain tribal suspects until tribal police arrive, Winter said.
The BIA also increased the tribal police department from 12 officers to 20, he said.