COMMENTARY: Supply our guardians with the tools of the trade.

by Mar 18, 2021OPINIONS



One Feather Editor 


There are very few pats on the back for our Cherokee Police Officers.  There are a few mentions during Tribal Council sessions while providing reports, but for the most part the officers go about their business with little thanks. 

I guess a police person might feel that goes with the territory. After all, a big part of their jobs is to correct or stop illegal behavior. And even when they are not catching people thought to be in the wrong, they have the fun job of issuing summons to appear in court, which will typically ruin a good day for the person receiving it. It is hard to build rapport when you have to call out someone’s negative behavior or tell them where and when to go. 

The last thing you would ever think of when mulling over the duties of an officer would be that they are paper pushers. In fact, much of the job requires that each officer document their day in detail and in writing. Those that I have been able to speak with say that for every call, it is typical for the paperwork documenting the call to take as long or longer than the call itself. It is super important during an investigation to capture all the evidence and get all the facts possible so that the court system may make informed decisions. And you never know which interaction will result in a court case or an arrest. So, everything must be assumed to eventually end up being adjudicated. And one of the worst possible feelings has to be when an officer has to deal with someone not being held accountable because they missed a small technical step in the process. 

According to the January report supplied by the Cherokee Indian Police Department (CIPD), our officers received 1,375 calls for service. The Natural Resources enforcement officers fielded another 174 incidents. The two departments collaborate with some differences in operation location and scope of work. But both agencies are law enforcement and assist each other in duties from time to time. The number for the CIPD equates to just under two calls each hour of each day. 

High stress levels for police and other emergency responders would probably be a given, along with the associated medical issues. 

The University of Buffalo reported in 2008, “Policing is dangerous work, and the danger lurks not on the streets alone. The pressures of law enforcement put officers at risk for high blood pressure, insomnia, increased levels of destructive stress hormones, heart problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide, researchers have found through a decade of studies of police officers.” (Science Daily, September 29, 2008, “Impact of stress on police officers’ physical and mental health). From PTSD to family neglect, the cost of being a police officer may be high. 

National, regional, and local events have caused a shortage in men and women willing to step up and become public servants, particularly members of a police force. The amount of bad press that has been received, justly or not, has had a cooling effect on the pool of individuals willing to wear a badge. Add to that the fact that policing has traditionally been a profession where pay has not been commensurate to the duties, and, in some cases, benefits like retirement are either not offered or not equitable to other public service jobs, and you have the recipe for a community without the manpower to sufficiently serve and protect themselves. And, with short staffs, police organizations are having to work existing police personnel overtime, many times multiple shifts, just to meet the demand of the community. 

As if the stress of daily facing a higher percentage chance of an encounter resulting of either the death of self or another and sometimes daily dealing with the gruesome images that they face as part of their job weren’t enough, officers face the impact on their lives and lifestyles of long hours away from home, negative image created by a minority of their profession, and the almost constant grind on body and mind that comes with long hours and low pay. 

Men and women who join a police force like the Cherokee Indian Police Department must have a special heart for the community they serve. Those who chose to sign up for and remain on the force couldn’t be in it for a paycheck alone, just based on the toll that the job takes on the average officer. A sense of community, responsibility, and a little bit of pride in self and community are contributing factors in the decision to serve. 

We should give the guardians of our community safety the tools to be successful. It begins with funding the best training, salaries, and benefits that we can offer, and at least competitive with other community police forces in our Region. And then making sure that the size of the force is equal to or exceeds the tasks at hand-the full ability to both protect and serve, without the additional stress of multiple shifts and excessive overtime. 

Where possible, public recognition for outstanding service should be a routinely reported item to the press and community from the Police Commission and CIPD leadership. A good work environment and celebration of success are fundamental elements of good management and successful teams. 

There is scuttlebutt that cruiser and body cam upgrades are on the way for the CIPD. This will be a great boost for both community and the police. Video/audio cameras will help the majority of upstanding officers in that fraudulent claims against them can be easily refuted. And, for those few incidents where an officer is failing the public trust, the body cams will be a valuable tool in maintaining the integrity of the force. 

Speaking of the public trust, our Tribal Council should move quickly to make 911 call recordings, dash cam and body cam recordings subject to inspection by the community through amendments to the public records law. Privacy of the innocent should be protected with appropriate redaction language in the legislation, but total censorship of those recordings is not ethical, damages the credibility of government, and is harmful to the community. 

Another great, underdeveloped resource are the street cams. Other communities use speed cams to reduce the burdens of officers by letting smart cameras identify speeders in their towns. It helps the CIPD and also makes streets safer because the speed limit is enforced 24/7 instead of when an officer is available to monitor the roads. More cams in more locations might help curb on Qualla Boundary drug traffic, vandalism, and other crimes against the community. I urge the CIPD, Police Commission, and the Tribal Council to consider using technology to reduce the burdens on the manpower of our public servants and to make the community safer. 

I believe giving the police their proper respect, support, and tools are critical to the safety of our community. It is at least as important as any other municipal project we currently consider. As we move through the Tribal budget process, as a community, let’s support the Cherokee police officers and NRE officers as much as possible through more than adequate funding for their tools of the trade.