OKMULGEE, Oklahoma – Cross-commission agreements, or cross-deputization agreements, are now regularly used terms in describing the joint jurisdiction of the Lighthorse Police Department and other local police departments within the reservation along other agencies on state, municipal, and even federal levels.
According to the LPD Chief of Police Richard Phillips, both terms are used to describe the relationship and essentially have the same meaning.
A commission is a group of people charged with a particular function. Each organization is a commission of its own. When cross-commissioning with one another, members of each commission become members of both commissions under the terms of the agreement.
LPD Captain Chad Morris manages the agreements and maintains the relationships between agencies. He typically initiates the relationships by contacting agencies. He will then hand deliver the initial paperwork within the agreement and wait for its return.
“The BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) holds the agreement,” Morris said. “It’s a third-party agreement between the state agencies and us. The ultimate goal is for all of us to work as one and serve all the citizens within the reservation and surrounding.”
Before the agreement is in place, the Muscogee Nation Attorney General and the potential agency attorneys will review and sign agreeable terms. Terms can be changed if necessary with the appropriate legal advisory in place. Generally, each agreement has the same guidelines with a few additions or retractions to some.
The single agreement between the agencies gives the deputies of each to play the role of both organizations. Morris best describes it as changing hats.
Commission cards are given to the agencies for them to distribute to officers. The commission cards are only eligible to those deputies over the age of 21 who possess a valid driver’s license, high school diploma or equivalent, no felony charges, provide certification, and qualify with a firearm twice a year.
The agreements automatically renew each year. If an agency decides to quit the agreement, a 60-day notice is required in writing.
“There’s a lot of them to keep up with,” Morris said.
Keeping agreements up to date and communication between agencies is Morris’s biggest part of the job.
Work has changed for the whole department, and deputies are working long hours and responding to major crimes. The LPD keeps two FBI agents on staff for those crimes in Indian Country that fall under the Major Crimes Act.
Before the agreements, the LPD would take a backseat to other agencies, and now Phillips said that they are “the star of the show.”
With more severe cases arising in the Northern Areas of the reservation, the agreements help bridge the gap between the agencies when handling criminal cases and jurisdiction. The LPD commends Tulsa PD, Coweta PD, and Sand Springs PD for the excellent working relationship.
“They all work fairly well with us,” Phillips said.
For the most part, Phillips claims no major problems arise from the agreements, although some have politely declined the offer. When the agreement is in place between agencies, this is what he calls “an easy protocol.” Paperwork can be filed, citations can be written, charges can be filed, and each agency can make an arrest.
It also offers protection and liability for each other in case of an accident or equipment damage during a pursuit. Resources of the LPD can be utilized seamlessly under these terms with the assistance of another agency.
“Those that aren’t usually just stand by and let us know the call is happening, the address, let us know what’s taking place, and we will take over start to finish,” Phillips said.
It can make these situations more time-consuming for all parties in areas that lack agreement.
“In a perfect world, we would all work together to make sure the laws are enforced for public safety,” Phillips said.
The invitation has been extended by LPD for those agencies and remains open at all times.
“I can’t answer for them,” Philips said. “We will still help them regardless, and we will still be there for our citizens.”
With only 65 officers covering an 11-county area, the LPD seeks to partner with any agency necessary to ensure safety across the reservation. Phillips said that the department is expected to grow with the need for more officers, more patrol cars, and more feet on the ground.
As LPD grows, citizens can expect changes in communications, special operations, and investigation units.
Depending on the situation, agencies may be able to enforce the Curtis Act without the agreement. Philips believes the Curtis Act is more of a barrier to today’s law enforcement and jurisdiction than it serves due diligence.
According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the Curtis Act “helped weaken and dissolve Indian Territory tribal governments” by abolishing tribal courts and subjecting everyone within the territory to federal law.
U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson favored the city of Tulsa over Choctaw citizen Justin Hooper’s appeal of a traffic ticket. He had claimed the 1898 Curtis Act held no sway over municipalities within reservation boundaries. Johnson ruled that the Curtis Act “grants the municipalities in its scope jurisdiction over violations of municipal ordinances by any inhabitant of those municipalities, including Indians.
The LPD conducts an eight-hour course open to the public that breaks down the cross-commission agreements and other topics of Criminal Justice in Indian Country (CJIC). For more information, or for assistance call the LPD at 918-732-7800.