Three Strategies to Enhance Tribal Community Policing During National Native American Heritage Month

November is National Native American Heritage Month, a time set aside for recognition of the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the United States. Over the past year, IACP staff visited 10 tribal police agencies around the country as a part of a research study on promising community policing practices in Indian Country that is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing.

Through the project site visits, we learned about many innovative community policing strategies for building strong, sustainable, trusting relationships between police and tribal members. A few examples of these strategies include:

  • Respecting native cultural traditions – Tribal nations are committed to protecting and preserving their history and culture, and understanding these traditions is an essential part of building relationships with community members. Many tribal police agencies offer formal and information cultural awareness training for officers to help them understand customs, religious ceremonies, and basics of the native language. To better incorporate the tribe’s culture, the Penobscot Nation Police Department in Indian Island, Maine, worked with the community to redesign the police patch and vehicle logos. With community input, a new logo was designed that incorporates traditional symbols of the tribe, providing a powerful visual symbol of the community and police relationship.
  • Partnering with neighboring law enforcement agencies – Understanding Indian Country jurisdiction can be a challenge for tribal and non-tribal officers, so maintaining regular communication with neighboring jurisdictions is essential. The Chickasaw Lighthorse Tribal Police Department, based in Ada, Oklahoma, maintains MOUs with 47 different agencies over the 13 counties in which it has jurisdiction. These partnerships are invaluable in maximizing resources and providing mutual aid for public safety needs. Chickasaw Lighthorse staff report that the key to these partnerships is on-going communication, being willing to give as well as receive support, and supporting the state level training on tribal jurisdiction that is offered by the Oklahoma POST to all officers in the state.
  • Hiring to reflect the community – Like many law enforcement agencies, tribal law enforcement agencies are working to hire officers that reflect the cultural make-up of their communities by hiring Native American officers. Native officers can educate non-Native officers about tribal customs and help bridge the gap between law enforcement and tribal community members. The Prairie Band of the Potawatomi Nation Police Department in Mayetta, KS, is taking a long term approach to hiring Native officers by working with tribal youth. The department offers an active Explorer Post for high school students that educates teens about careers in law enforcement while also including elements of tribal culture.

Stay tuned for a comprehensive resource guide featuring more information on these and many other strategies to help law enforcement build relationships with the tribal communities they serve.

For information about the project, contact Jennifer Styles at or 1-800-THE-IACP, ext 804.

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