Tribal Police Force Pushed Out of Protecting Watersmeet Community by Township

Published February 16, 2019

WATERSMEET, Mich. — Police coverage is about to change significantly for the residents of Watersmeet and Watersmeet Township. New decisions by Watersmeet leadership have forced out the longstanding 24/7 coverage of the area by the Lac Vieux Desert Tribal Police with the intent to stand up a small, one to three officer, municipal police force.

Though the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians (the “Tribe”) has offered to continue providing police services to Watersmeet Township, as we have for more than a decade, Township Supervisor Mike Rogers has indicated that he is not willing to allow our coverage to continue unless the Tribe provides unpaid police coverage and also contributes to funding the new municipal police force.

Gogebic County Sherriff, Pete Matonich, has concurrently decided to discontinue the County’s agreement with the Tribe which has been in place for almost 20 years without issue.  Due to these decisions, Tribal Police will no longer be able to provide the low-cost, high-quality service they have long provided to the residents of Watersmeet Township. Despite these changes, the Tribe has continued to support the County’s law enforcement efforts, including the recent approval of a $6,000 request submitted by the County Sheriff for bulletproof trauma plates and carriers, road rifles, and the replacement of bulletproof vests for County law enforcement personnel. This funding came out of the Tribe’s casino revenue sharing funds (commonly known as 2% dollars), even while the Tribe submits requests for grant funding to outfit their own officers with the same protective equipment.

“The Tribe regrets that the Township has pushed the Tribe out of protecting the community we love, but we remain hopeful that an arrangement can be reached between the Township and the Tribe in order to maintain exceptional law enforcement coverage for Watersmeet Township,” stateed Tribal Chairman James Williams, Jr. in response to these recent events.

In October 2018, Watersmeet Township, which is home to the Tribe, voted to implement its own police department to provide law enforcement services effective March 31, 2019.  For years, Watersmeet Township and the Tribe have worked cooperatively to provide law enforcement services to the area through the Tribal Police Department – a fully functioning 24/7 policing and corrections agency in which the officers are cross deputized through the Gogebic County Sherriff’s Office, federally-commissioned and MCOLES certified.

While the Tribe and Watersmeet Township originally pursued the desire to stand up a municipal police department together, discussions deteriorated when the Watersmeet Township Supervisor was unmoving in his position that the Tribe would be required to continue offering the same high quality, comprehensive law enforcement coverage for the area at their own financial cost as well as contribute to the funding of the newly-created municipal department.  The Tribe’s limited resources simply prohibit such an arrangement.

Despite almost a dozen similar arrangements throughout the State of Michigan, hundreds of like agreements across the country and no issues for just short of two decades, the Gogebic County Sheriff has communicated his decision to the Tribe to terminate the long-standing mutual assistance/cross deputation agreement between the Tribe and Gogebic County, citing liability concerns.

Given the position of the Township and the Sheriff, coupled with the upcoming change in the face of law enforcement for Watersmeet Township, the Tribe has received numerous calls from community members – both Native and non-Native – expressing severe concern for the future of public safety in Watersmeet Township.

Just like most of the community, the Tribe is troubled by this turn of events spearheaded by Watersmeet Township’s leadership and the Gogebic County Sheriff, and we remain concerned about what these decisions mean for the health, safety and welfare of the Watersmeet Township community.  It is inevitable that a gap in law enforcement coverage will occur due to the small size of the new Watersmeet Township police force and the location of the Gogebic County Sherriff’s Office. Nevertheless, the Tribe extends its best wishes to Watersmeet Township and hopes for the success of the Watersmeet Township Police Department.

In a recent conversation with Watersmeet Township community members, Tribal Chairman James Williams, Jr. stated, “Both the Tribe and the Tribal Police Department remain committed to doing their part to maintain and improve public safety in and around Watersmeet Township.  Under this new law enforcement structure, we will continue to ensure coverage within our jurisdiction to keep the Watersmeet community safe.”

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