Blackfeet taking over policing of reservation

Great Falls, Montana (AP) December 2010

The Blackfeet tribe is taking back responsibility for law enforcement on the reservation nearly eight years after the BIA took control because of mismanagement concerns.

The tribe has been working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs since 2007 to resume operating law enforcement on the reservation in north-central Montana, the Great Falls Tribune reports.

"Getting the program back under the Blackfeet Tribe is in the best interest of the Blackfeet people," said Henry Devereaux, director of Blackfeet Law Enforcement Services since February. "It has to grow into a good department and not repeat the mistakes of the past."

In February 2003, a BIA report exposed evidence of poorly trained law enforcement officers, botched case reports and political interference from tribal council members.

The BIA used a SWAT team to confiscate officers' guns, badges and uniforms.

The BIA initially had 32 uniformed officers, but the department has struggled to retain officers and the number on patrol has dropped to as low as five.

The BIA will continue to run the Blackfeet jail, but most of the patrol officers will be gone by the end of December.

The agency's $2.9 million annual budget will allow the hiring of up to 25 officers, and Devereaux said he hopes to have 15 officers working by the end of the year.

"It's a slow process," he said last week. "Training takes almost three months and recruitment takes time. We'll need to have ongoing recruitment efforts to keep staffing where we need it to be."

As part returning law enforcement control to the Blackfeet, the tribe will have a Law and Order Commission, a group of citizens that will review the performance of law enforcement. The BIA will continue to review tribal law enforcement practices and budgets and make sure federal standards are met.

"If they do have anything that they are falling short of, we do a corrective action plan, and we assist the tribe in getting back up to compliance," said Elizabeth Hall, the deputy special agent for the BIA in Billings.