Proposed legislation would restore backup, for tribal police officers in Wisconsin. In late 2008, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen issued a formal opinion, that the state’s mutual assistance statute does not apply to tribal law enforcement agencies.

Lac du Flambeau Tribal Police Chief Robert Brandenburg says the opinion caught his department by surprise, because they’d been working closely with DOJ. In the months since Van Hollen’s opinion, Brandenburg says his officers have had to jump through hoops to get backup from other departments. “If one of my officers calls for help, we can’t get help unless a Vilas County lieutenant authorizes it,” Brandenburg told the Assembly Criminal Justice committee. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“It makes for a lot of frustration,” Brandenburg said. “We were working so well together, building bridges, and then things kind of fell apart.” And it cuts both ways, with tribal officers unable to render mutual aid to other departments. St. Croix Tribal Police Chief Frank Taylor relates a recent incident in Burnett County, one of three northwestern Wisconsin counties where his officers work. “There was a verbal domestic that was taking place. We had a tribal officer less than a mile away. He was not able to respond to that call, because there was no mutual aid agreement between us and the Burnett County Sheriff’s Department.”

The bill’s author, state Representative Anne Hraychuck, says the legislation (AB 713) will redefine law enforcement agency in Wisconsin to include tribal police, and treats the matters of cost and liability in the same way as the current mutual assistance law. Taylor noted that the standards to become a tribal officer in Wisconsin are the same as those for the Wisconsin State Patrol, county sheriffs departments and municipal police departments.

Bob Hague (1:20 MP3) AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (1:20 MP3)

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