By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Travis Smith, of the Birdtown Community, wants the position of Cherokee Chief of Police to be elected by the members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Legislation he submitted which calls for this was discussed in a two and a half hour long work session by Tribal Council on Thursday, July 30.
“Let our people have a voice,” said Smith. “That’s what I’ve heard from the people.” He said he would be fine if the issue went to a referendum vote.
Smith said what is needed is “accountability back to our community and taking care of our community”.
Tribal Council Chairwoman Terri Henry commented, “I know that my family has been personally victimized by crime…and, the frustration that I’ve heard from other individuals of the time that it takes to get information from the Police Dept., it just seems very frustrating.”
“There’s a lot of different layers in here that I think we really need to take a look at and try to have a better understanding about processes and how things are moving through a system so that we can all better understand what’s happening in our case if we’re the crime victim but also have an understanding of what the larger issues are for the police department.”
Like others, including Reuben Teesatuskie from the Cherokee Police Commission, Chairwoman Henry supports the idea of having a study completed on the needs, processes and efficiencies of the Cherokee Indian Police Department.
She said, “I think a study would be a really great first step for us to have a better understanding of how those processes work and what’s the bigger picture.”
Vice Chairman Bill Taylor said many of his constituents are worried the position could become political if it becomes an elected position. “A lot of those I’ve talked to don’t want it to be an elected position.”
Chief of Police Ben Reed cleared up a previous misconception that the current position is appointed. He related that the position was advertised in the Cherokee One Feather, and he applied just like all tribal employees do. “If I wouldn’t have put an application in, I wouldn’t have been in the interview process. As far as I know, I fall under the same guidelines as every other tribal employee.”
He said he is against it becoming an elected position. “It’s the wrong thing to do, I’d never support it. You’ll never see my name on any type of ballot or anything for political office. Personally, as a community member, as an enrolled member of this tribe, I would vote no for it.”
Chief of Police Reed added, “The definition of politics…talks about the debate or an argument of an individual or group of people gain authority of power. That ain’t what a Chief of Police needs to be doing. That ain’t what our police officers need to be worried about.”
“We have a job to do. We take it serious. We have people’s lives on the line, and we try our best to get the job done. Along the way, we make mistakes, and we grow from them. We grow from them, but, if you want to see more done, get us the help we need. Get us the officers we need. Get an efficiency study.”
Don Long, Big Y Community member, said, “Our police officers are doing a fine job out in the community bringing people into our courts. Our courts are getting better every year, but there’s a long way to go.”
He said the police are definitely doing their job. “They’re arresting people. They’re taking them to court. As far as our police, we need to uphold and support them all we can. They’re out there dealing with this stuff every day.”
Several of the Tribal Council representatives brought up the idea of taking the Police Commission out from under the authority of the Executive Office and putting it back under the Community Services Committee.
Yellowhill Rep. David Wolfe noted, “At annual council, I think Tribal Council needs to submit legislation taking back Community Service and make that a stronger committee…and let them initiate the study and the scope of the study.”
Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy related that there are many different solutions and they need to all be looked in order to find the best fit for the community. “If we were to turn the table and invite the public in here to voice their concerns, there’s not a building on the Boundary large enough to hold all of them. There’s a lot of disappointment in the communities and there’s a lot of fear. Something has to happen. Something has to change. Something has to get better. Our Boundary now has the highest drug abuse rate in the state of North Carolina.”
Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Brandon Jones said frustrations are high throughout all communities. “The Commission has tried to make suggestions and do things, but they don’t have the teeth. They don’t have the power to do anything about some of these situations. Then, it becomes a management problem. But, the officers are out there doing what they can do to take these cases to Court, and we see it all the time in the newspaper, 20 charges on some of these individuals, they plead it down to one or two, put them back out the door with a slap on the wrist.”
He added, “The community is frustrated with that. I’m frustrated with it. The officers are frustrated with it. And, the common goal is that we all want to find a solution to this to make it better for all of us.”
Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe posed one idea, “I’ve heard a lot about the breakdown between the police officers and the Police Commission. I wonder if it could work if we might could have two police officers that also sit in on the Police Commission? I know we have TERO vendors on the TERO Board.”
The issue is set to be discussed at the regular Tribal Council meeting scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 6.
To view the entire session, visit: https://www.theonefeather.com/live/tribal-council-work-sessions/