FROM THE ARCHIVE
BIA audit slams Omaha Tribe's police force
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MAY 8, 2001

A recent Bureau of Indian Affairs audit slams the police department of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska for failing to comply with an overwhelming number of standard law enforcement policies.

As a result, the tribe has been forced to fire its police chief Ben Cline, whom the state of Nebraska won't certify due to a previous felony conviction. The conviction had been set aside under a federal youth corrections law and Cline has been serving in the tribe's police force since 1992.

Due to complaints received from Omaha tribal members, and some from members of the neighboring Winnebago Tribe, former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover requested the audit last fall. After a standard review, the BIA's Office of Law Enforcement Services issued its findings in January, a few days after Gover left office.

According to the report, the tribe's police department was found in "moderate" or "substantial" non-compliance in almost all 117 mandatory policies that apply to its program. The department in 1999 adopted the BIA's standard law enforcement handbook, yet Cline admitted he hadn't read the manual thoroughly or learned its requirements.

The policies on which the police department was found non-compliant ranged from the relatively minor, such as failing to give oaths of office to all personnel, to a number of "critical oversights," says the report. Included among these is a lack of a current background check into Cline, which the review says questions his ability to serve in his position, lack of proper testing and training, and lack of policies on the use of force by officers.

The police department also has no record of mandatory weekly and monthly inspections of its facilities ever having been conducted.

"Failure to apply policy is critical because it guides the actions of the law enforcement staff in the performance of their duties, promotes program effectiveness, and increases safety for for the police and citizenry," states the audit.

Complaints by Omaha and Winnebago tribal members against the department and its detention facility are common on the two northeast Nebraska reservations. Yet the police department failed to take seriously allegations of abuse, even when reported by Winnebago officials, says the report.

The tribe's detention facility received its own audit and was also found to be non-compliant in a number of areas. Some of the more serious include the failure to separate juveniles from adults, lack of qualified staff to monitor detainees at all times, and failure to meet male and female staff requirements.

The facility was also found to have a number of safety issues which could lead to escape of detainees or harm to them. By failing to correct these, the department, the tribe, and the federal government face increased liability from citizens, says the report.

The audit acknowledges the tribe hasn't necessarily received adequate help or resources to administer its program. But the BIA said the tribe would lose its funding if it failed to make a number of changes, including firing Cline.

Although the report was issued in January, the tribe fired Cline just three weeks ago after first suspending him.

A citizens group of Indians and non-Indians has been formed to address a number of public safety and law enforcement issues on the Omaha Reservation, population approximately 5,200. A little less than half are American Indian or Alaska Native, according to Census 2000 figures.

There are about 2,600 residents of the neighboring Winnebago Reservation.

Relevant Links:
Law Enforcement Services, Bureau of Indian Affairs - http://bialaw.fedworld.gov

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