Gary Fife/Radio Communications Specialist
Hawkins talks about gun laws, body cameras
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma — The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is facing major legal issues that could affect how its tribal law enforcement agency will be doing its job. The top law enforcement officer for the Nation said they are looking at how they might be called on to do the job if major change comes for the Nation.
Many questions regarding the issues facing MCN will have to be answered by the principal chief and the administration, but MCN Lighthorse Tribal Police Department Chief Robert Hawkins answered questions regarding the department and its challenges for the future.
Robert Hawkins: What we’re doing on the Lighthorse side is we’re working on commissions with other agencies throughout our 11-county jurisdictions, preparing the best that we can.
Mvskoke Radio: How are those commissions coming along? They seem like an integral part of what you need to do.
RH: I think that we have done well on getting these commissions in place. I think right now, off the top of my head, we have 32 commissions. I believe that we are pursing nine or ten more and then we’ll have all the agencies within our jurisdictional bounds.
MR: Does that include counties and cities?
RH: That does include counties and cities.
MR: Did Tulsa say anything about it?
RH: The City of Tulsa has been commissioned with us for some time. We are in the process of signing with Tulsa County and that should be happening in the near future.
MR: That brings up things like people might get pulled over for some sort of traffic thing, but might say, ‘you can’t arrest me because I’m not Creek’ or this kind of thing. Is that something you’ll hear?
RH: You know, we’re going to hear that. The commissions are going to come into play on this.
It’s just a matter of knowing who we’re doing with. Is it a non-Indian, is it an Indian, the type of crime? A lot of things are going to come into play with this. It’s just cooperation with our agency and the agencies we’re commissioned with.
MR: We’ve got a lot of legalities yet to be figured out and you’re kind of in a holding pattern until that’s finalized?
RH: Yes, everything is still a stay. They’ve granted a stay in how we operate. It’s still trust and restricted properties. Until a decision comes down, then we’re going to operate just like we’ve been operating.
MR: One thing your department did was to travel out west to visit our Dine’ cousins on the Navajo reservation to see how they do it. We’re talking about a reservation that is part of four different states, a huge place. So when you headed out there, what did you have in mind? What did you want to learn?
RH: What our purpose was going out there was to see how a police department operated on a reservation that size. They cover about 27,000 square miles with a population of about 315,000. They are in fact, spread out so much that with the number of officers that they have, from what we understood, they were budgeted for 300 officers and they have only 183 trying to cover that amount of area. So, it’s definitely an issue for them especially when your back up can be an hour to three hours out. It’s not uncommon for them to run code ‘lights and sirens’ to a call and have to drive two to three hours to get there.
It’s really hard on them officer-wise, in response back up and to rely on the local agencies that they are commissioned with also. The state police, the counties and a couple of municipality agencies that are out there. So, they have good relationships with them.
MR: What kind of ideas did they give you or perhaps some notes that you took that might help you in covering hypothetically, a lot larger jurisdiction?
RH: There are seven districts that are out in the Navajo Nation. They have criminal investigations, special operations and then their police department. Just merely looking at the operations, the resources they have, they have some things out there that we would like to utilize on our end and vice versa. It was basically like a cross training between our agencies. It was something that’s very beneficial for both agencies. We took a lot in. We can take a lot that they had that we can utilize on our end. They could take what we have, the ideas that we have, equipment that we have that they don’t, that they can utilize on their end and make our agencies better at what we do.
MR: Is there some technique or piece of gear that sticks out in your mind that you really want to see happen here?
RH: We have similar equipment. I think to an extent the Nation here — Lighthorse has some better equipment, some better resources than what they have out there. But to say the least, they have a few things that we would like to implement with ours. They do have a mobile command truck that would definitely be beneficial for us, areas that we would have to get into in the future.
They also have an Amber Alert system in place there to where they could activate, put that into play and it will go out to every television station, every TV within their reservation. It will also come outside a hundred-mile radius also that everybody in the area, in a three or four state area so everybody could look out for this missing person. I think that it is something that is needed here. Something that we would like to implement in and I think that’s one of the big things is that Amber Alert system. We are actually working towards that, but we’ve got a real good idea on what we need to do and who we need to contact to get that into play.
MR: We saw a piece of legislation that was sent to the (Oklahoma) governor regarding Constitutional carrying of weapons, concealed or even open carry. Reminded me of the old days of cowboys carrying a six-shooter on their hip. It was a little unnerving for me.
The governor vetoed it and some legislators vowed to bring it back. What sort of reaction did you and your department have when you heard of this thing moving through the legislature and possibly becoming law?
RH: We, by no means want to keep anybody from their right to carry. We support the second amendment and we feel like if you meet the standards and criteria to carry a weapon, then you should be able to. There are pros and cons to it when it comes to open carry. Will it deter crime — possibly? If you have somebody that comes in and wants to rob a place or commit a crime and sees somebody with a gun on their hip, then, they may think twice about doing it.
But also, you’re looking at a ‘con’ to it, whether it is a bank or convenience store or commit a crime somewhere and they see a person with a gun on their hip, then that person becomes a target. That’s going to be the first person that they’re looking at.
On the law enforcement side, in light of all the shootings, look at the Santa Fe, Texas shooting that occurred. You have a crime scene going on and you have a bunch of officers that are working it and you have somebody walking up and they have a gun on their hip, there’s liable to be an issue. We’re going to want to know who this person is? Is he part of this crime or who is he?
MR: It raises the question when we look at this possibility of where can these things be carried. Obviously if you’re going to carry one, you probably should have a permit, but say on tribal property. We’ve got the Creek Nation with so many holdings around the district plus the campus, where and when is it possible for someone to carry a concealed weapon?
RH: Under tribal code, under Title 14, it does say that you can carry a concealed weapon on property. That would be on any tribal property. As long as you have the proper permits on it, then you can carry it. The casinos, you cannot. If there are businesses that say ‘no weapons allowed,’ you abide by that also. But according to tribal code, Title 14, it does say you can carry a weapon with a concealed license on tribal property.
MR: Would that include the campus? I understand there are regulations, laws that you really can’t?
RH: This is something that we have had meetings on the complex about. What can a concealed/carry permit holder carry on campus or not? That’s still something that’s in the works. I know that in the past, they really didn’t want anybody, even with a license, to be carrying on campus.
So, until we get something for sure out in policy or in writing — tribal code says that you can have it, but we look for the safety of the principal chief, second chief, other executive members that are on campus. This really goes anywhere. You know, you can let anybody come in, concealed carry and anybody can get mad at somebody and it can ‘go south’ quick. We want to look out for the protection of principal chief, second chief and other members, department heads and all that on the campus. So until we get something in writing or something that is really set to avoid carrying on campus, unless you’re law enforcement.
MR: Will we see Lighthorse officers with cameras (body cameras)?
RH: That is something that we’re working towards. It is something that I feel is a necessary part of our equipment. We are currently working on a grant through the (U.S.) Department of Justice that will allow us to purchase body cams for all officers and allow them to wear it according to policy. We don’t have a policy in place for body cameras. We’re currently working on that and part of that grant process is to have a policy in place and be able to show that we can have something that we can work on and abide by.
I think that body cameras are necessary. For one, they provide accountability for officers who are wearing them. Also it protects the officers against any false accusations. Anybody can say that the officer used excessive force or whatever. You get that all the time.
By wearing a body cam, and you have it going and you have the evidence right there showing our officers are protected by what’s showing on this camera. Also evidence used for prosecution. So, there’s big uses for it, big pluses on having them. So, we would like to get those in play and make it an everyday piece of our uniform.
MR: One thing that troubles me is we’ve seen officers in major metropolitan areas where somehow that camera gets turn off at a crucial point. Just being the skeptical reporter I am, I’m saying ‘what are they trying to hide?’ Will you have some rules regarding as to when that thing goes on and off? Are those being considered?
RH: There will be the standards for them being activated. Every time you get out on a traffic stop you’re going to have it on. Every time you go to a call it will be activated. It will just be something that the officers will have to program themselves to do. It will be requirement. You will have to do it. It will be according to policy. We will abide by policy. It will be turned on every call you go to, every traffic stop. Something that we are going to look at is putting video cameras in our vehicles also.