Clark County released a proposed agreement that would permit local law enforcement to perform police functions on the Cowlitz Indian Reservation following the announcement of the grand opening date for the Ilani Casino. The $510 million casino is set to open April 24.
The county council will vote on the proposed agreement on Tuesday, but they’re not the only ones who have a say in the matter. The Cowlitz Tribal Council must also vote to allow police force to operate on a reservation that would otherwise not have one. If either party chooses to vote against the agreement that was drafted by the civil division of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, then local law enforcement would not be allowed to respond to any calls for service at the casino.
There is no reason to believe that either side would choose to vote against the proposed agreement, but this is unchartered territory for both parties involved. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office has been meeting with the Cowlitz Tribe for over a year in regards to public safety issues on the reservation.
The deal would have the tribe adopt the state criminal laws for use on the reservation, while permitting law enforcement to enter the land as needed. With the opening of the Ilani Casino many believe that this is a necessary measure to ensure the safety of its customers. According the to the deal, local law enforcement would not have authority over Cowlitz tribe members, but asks the tribe to draft its own criminal code. Furthermore, law enforcement can detain tribal members suspected of breaking the law until federal agents can take them into custody. The proposed agreement would last a year and would need to be renewed and renegotiated when that year is up.
Local law enforcement has stepped forward saying they’d respond to a call when needed at the casino. “Our preference would be to have a direct agreement with the tribe,” said Ridgefield Police Chief John Brooks. Although Brooks says the deal is preferred it seems like an ultimatum considering himself and La Center Police Chief Marc Denney have both said their respective departments won’t respond to calls at the Ilani Casino until an agreement is reached.
Law enforcement is faced with a number of issues when responding to calls on the Cowlitz Indian Reservation. By entering a sovereign nation there’s no guarantee that officers will be covered by their insurance, not to mention the department only consists of two sergeants and four officers. The C0wlitz is a non-tax-paying entity and the agreement would require the tribe to pay the sheriff’s office $250,000, in addition to reimbursements for jail and court costs and prosecuting attorney’s services from incidents arising from the reservation.
Again, the agreement officially goes to vote on Tuesday and all signs indicate that both parties will agree. Local law enforcement agencies have visited the casino multiple times in the past few months to meet with the casino’s security staff. The fact that the agreement is a one year deal makes it appealing to both law enforcement and the Cowlitz Tribe because they can renegotiate as the following year.