Dayton Calls Mille Lacs County Revoked Law Enforcement Agreement a 'Public Safety Crisis'

September 26, 2017 10:38 PM

In an exclusive interview, Governor Mark Dayton told KSTP Mille Lacs County faces a "public safety crisis" and called recent actions by county leaders "dangerously irresponsible and morally indefensible."

In July 2016, Mille Lacs County revoked a 25-year-old joint law enforcement agreement with tribal police on the Reservation of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.  Fifteen months of behind-the-scenes talks and mediation have not produced a new joint law enforcement agreement between the tribe and the county, which officially strips Mille Lacs Band Tribal Police of their authority to enforce state law on the reservation.


Dayton sent a letter to the Mille Lacs county board, county attorney and county sheriff that said the absence of 32 tribal officers has caused a surge in drug crimes and drug overdoses.

In his letter, Dayton said, "In the last three weeks, there have been a total of fourteen overdoses on the reservation, one of them resulting in a victim falling into a coma and being placed on life support.  In the last year, there have been a total of forty-five overdoes on the Mille Lacs Reservation. This is a public safety emergency, yet Mille Lacs County has been unwilling to recognize the authority of tribal police officers or truly engage with Tribal Leaders to resolve the situation."

In the Governor's interview with KSTP, he stood by his statement and gave the county a Sept. 29 deadline to fix the problem.

"The rise in crimes and overdoses, which affects people all over the county, has risen to a level that is intolerable and has to stop," Dayton said.

Tribal leaders also told KSTP that they are witnessing a "free-for-all" among criminals who are coming into the county and onto the reservation. Leaders say the criminals are aware of the fact that Tribal Police cannot enforce state laws.

"This has become a matter of life-and-death for us and we want our people and our visitors to be safe," said Melanie Benjamin, chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band. "And right now criminals know they can do all kinds of illegal things from drug activity to gang activity, because there is no one there to stop them",

Benjamin said the Mille Lacs County Sheriff has hired six new deputies to help patrol the reservation, but that effort is simply not enough.

"There is no way six extra deputies can adequately patrol 61-thousand acres on the reservation," Benjamin said. "And our own officers, who can respond much quicker, are now in a position where all they can do is stand by and watch."

Mille Lacs Band Legislator Sandra Blake said the reservation is witnessing an opioid epidemic — like other parts of Minnesota — and county leaders turning a blind eye to the problem.

"To see what's happening here is heartbreaking," Blake said. "We just lost another one to an overdose yesterday and it just keeps happening every day, sometimes six times in a day."

Mille Lacs County leaders declined an interview request, but County Administrator Pat Oman, said the county has put a new joint law enforcement agreement on the table.




Jay Kolls

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