13 Officers Commissioned To Police Tribal Members In Chickasha

Friday, June 11th 2021, 5:53 pm

CHICKASHA, Oklahoma -

The Bureau of Indian Affairs commissioned 13 local police officers Friday in Chickasha to prosecute tribal members under tribal and federal laws.

This move comes after the U.S. Supreme Court McGirt decision made big changes to the law enforcement landscape in the state.

After the McGirt v. Oklahoma decision in July 2020 and the subsequent Bosse appeal ruling in March, tribal land expanded to cover millions more acres in Oklahoma -- effectively restoring 19th century boundaries. 

But that didn’t mean local law enforcement agencies had the authority to prosecute tribal members in their jurisdiction.

“It’s a force multiplier, it just gives us more boots on the ground to help us with this challenge that we’re facing,” said Bryan Stark, Bureau of Indian Affairs assistant special agent in charge. 

When tribal members commit crimes, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in the McGirt ruling that only tribal law enforcement or federal authorities could handle the case.

This left tribal law enforcement agencies to police much larger areas. 

The Chickasaw Nation’s Lighthorse Police partnered with Chickasha police to support the commissioning process. 

“Their area of coverage expanded exponentially…we’re on the far western side of it. their main headquarters are in Ada, they also have an office in Ada, their personnel were trying to cover all their different areas,” said Kathryn Rowell, Chickasha Police Department chief of police. 

Now, local law enforcement agencies are partnering with the BIA and the tribes to commission officers with authority to follow up on misdemeanor and felony offenses.

“It’s been challenging, I’ll say that…we’re doing this pretty much on the eastern side of Oklahoma,” said Stark. 

Local law enforcement can apply to be commissioned by the BIA, and many agencies are in the process of acquiring federal and tribal authority for their officers. Chickasha police began training their officers last August.

“We’re not doing this on a whim, but it’s a necessity, in order to keep providing services to our citizenry,” said Rowell. 

Stark said there are about 500 similar cross-commissions in Oklahoma that are currently in place or in the process of being established in partnership with the tribes and the BIA.