The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Law Enforcement Commission (LEC) serves as a liaison between the citizens and the Salt River Police Department (SRPD), handling complaints from Community members who feel they have been mistreated during encounters involving SRPD officers. It also handles complaints relating to the Department of Corrections.
“We will have the citizen/Community member fill out a complaint form; if they are elderly, we will help them fill it out,” said Law Enforcement Commission member Leland Johnson as he explained the process of filing a complaint. “We will bring the form to a Law Enforcement Commission meeting and look over the complaint to see if it’s legitimate. From there, we will hand it over to the SRPD investigators, and after 30 days they will provide us with a statement of what the findings were, if [the claim] was founded or unfounded. Founded means that the officer did do something wrong, and unfounded means the officer didn’t do anything wrong and was going by policy.”
Not only does the LEC deal with complaints, but it also is working with the Cultural Resources Department on providing cultural-sensitivity training for officers and other law-enforcement workers.
“Originally, LEC only dealt with complaints from Community members and citizens; however, we are starting to come up with ways to solve the problems or complaints. One way is by trying to get cultural-sensitivity training to help the officers understand [our Community] better,” said Law Enforcement Commission Member Garfield King, Sr.
King said that preventing problems between citizens and law enforcement in the first place is important on the Community, because police officers are part of the Community, and they will continue to run into Community members at events and in other situations. So it’s important that the relationship stay positive.
“… [Y]ou are always going to see the same people … at a Community event, around the Community service buildings; these officers will meet these people again in a different circumstance,” King said. “People are going to remember how they were treated by an officer. So if [officers] treat the people with respect, it’s more likely that [the people] are going to greet them [in a friendly manner].”
The LEC has received complaints from elderly citizens saying that they have been mistreated by the police, Johnson said. The SRPD officers now have tips to help them in their dealings with senior citizens on the Community.
“Elderly people take some time in explaining things, so you have to be patient with them and listen to them, and don’t try to rush them through their story or their facts,” said Johnson. “The elders out here want to tell a whole story before they come to what the issue is, and then it makes sense.”
The LEC was established by the SRPMIC Council in 1997 and was originally called the Salt River Board of Police Commissioners, recalled recently retired LEC member Bert Andrews. Andrews started his police career in 1970 as the SRPMIC started its own police department. He was one of the original LEC members, along with Claire Miller, Burnett Gates, Herschel Andrews, the late Jose Ramon and Allen Feinstein.
“In those days it seemed like we had more interaction with the police,” said Andrews as he remembered the connection that the LEC and the SRPD had when the Commission first started. “In this last year serving on the LEC, it’s way different from back then.”
Like other LEC members who brought law-enforcement experience to the table, Andrews fought in 1981 to obtain jurisdiction from the U.S. Attorney General for the SRPD to conduct investigations of major crimes on the reservation. He also created and revamped the SRPD’s property evidence guidelines to correspond with the federal guidelines.
The current LEC members are Lynn Hubbard, Wi-bwa Williams, Garfield King, Sr., Leland Johnson, William Valencia and Sylvester Loring; one position is vacant. The LEC meets up to three to four times a month, depending on the number of complaints that require resolution.
If you have a complaint relating to personal dealings with the SRPD or the Community’s Department of Corrections, or if you want to learn more about the LEC, you can go to the Salt River Law Enforcement Commission website at www.srpmic-nsn.gov/community/lec.asp for contact information, complaint forms and other information.