Over the years I often have had people ask me what it is I actually do, and what Columbia River Inter-Tribal Police Department (CRITPD) is. Not just friends, family or members of the public but other police agencies as well. For anyone who is not a tribal member or a fishermen on the Columbia River, this is a fair question. After all, we are not your typical police agency and the chances of a member of this community coming into contact with one of our officers in the field can be pretty slim.
For those who do not know, CRITPD is a tribal police department that has been in existence since 1982 and is based out of Hood River. We have 15 sworn officers, we are certified police officers in Oregon and we attend the same police academy as all other officers, deputies and troopers in the state. Our officers patrol 150 linear miles of the Columbia River between the Bonneville and Mcnary Dams, including its shorelines in Oregon and Washington. CRITPD’s ongoing mission is to put fish back in the rivers and to protect the Tribal Treaty Fishing Rights. CRITPD works toward that mission by enforcing tribal conservation laws, to protect the salmon runs, and protects tribal sovereignty by providing self-regulation of tribal law. While the original mission of CR ITPD was to provide fisheries conservation enforcement for members of the Columbia River treaty tribes, which are the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (Oregon), the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation (Washington), and the Nez Perce Tribe (Idaho), it has grown over the years and provides much more in the way of police services.
In 2011, CRITPD started providing regular police services for Celilo Village and the 31 Fishing Access Sites along the Columbia River, which added the responsibility of investigating and responding to criminal matters and all other calls for service. This was quite a change from primarily providing enforcement of tribal fishing regulations. To accommodate this change several of our officers have attended the Criminal Investigator program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glyncoe, Georgia.
The added role of providing regular police services to the fishing sites along the river has allowed CRITPD to expand partnerships with many of the local sheriff’s, police departments and state police offices in our area, including the one with The Dalles City Police (DCP). As the need for CRITPD to expand its capabilities to respond to and investigate criminal calls for service has grown, our officers have worked more closely with local police agencies like DCP. CRITPD has relied on DCP for assistance with investigations, use of their equipment and other police resources like animal control and backup while on calls for service. At the same time, DCP has often turned to CRITPD for help on issues where a perspective on tribal culture was needed, matters of mutual police aid, and assistance with providing services to the tribal community.
Recently I was asked to come to DCP to weigh in on a sensitive cultural matter, having to do with a tribal member. I had been briefed on the issue over the phone, and as a tribal member and a tribal police officer, was able to see the issue through the lens of my personal and professional experiences. It seemed clear to me what the appropriate response to this issue should be but when I arrived to discuss the matter with The Dalles Police Chief Patrick Ashmore and the detectives, I realized the issue was not as cut and dried to them. This was for no reason other than they lacked my perspective. I related to them a general overview of the customs and cultural beliefs that ought to be considered and we had an open discussion about the matter. We looked at the issue at hand and decided it was a matter of weighing the cultural significance of our dilemma against the needs of the investigation. Ultimately a decision was made that took into consideration all aspects of the investigation, while managing to uphold the dignity of the cultural concern. When all was said and done, it felt like we made the right decision and most all of the people involved were satisfied with the outcome.
I think, for police officers, it is sometimes in our nature to turn to and rely on the black and white but over the years we learn to rely on our past experience and our instinct to do what is right. I have heard this way of doing things referred to as practical wisdom, which (simply put) is like common sense’s older, wiser sibling. In this situation our two departments were able to put our heads together and dole out some practical wisdom. I am happy to have DCP as a partner agency and happy with the way this case was handled. It shows growth and progression that is mutually beneficial to our departments and the communities we serve.
CRITPD officers also respond to and investigate reports of people looting in culturally significant archaeological sites. This region of the Columbia is rich with prehistoric sites that are a non-renewable cultural resources, meaning once they have been looted or damaged in any way, the value and significance they hold cannot be recovered.
While providing police services and conservation enforcement is paramount among our concerns as a police agency, we like to support the tribal community in any way we can. CRITPD participates in many programs that are geared toward building relations with the community and supporting their needs. Among them are: an annual toy drive for children who reside at various Fishing Sites and Villages, where “Salmon Clause” brings not only holiday gifts but blankets, coats and other winter clothing to the community; a Multi-Disciplinary Task-Force (MDT), which works to bring much needed social services to the community and attempts to bridge the gap between tribal and non-tribal services; and a joint Boating Safety program that works with other partner agencies to provide boating safety training, and boating safety equipment such as personal floatation devices (PFD) and navigation lights to the tribal community.
What is it we actually do at CRITPD? I can go on and on with the details but I won’t. I do hope the picture is a little clearer though. Chief Ashmore and his crew have been very supportive in enhancing the partnership between our departments and I want to thank them for that. I also want to thank Chief Ashmore for giving me the opportunity to have our department highlighted in this edition of “The Chief’s Corner.”
Russell Spino is a patrol sergeant for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Police Department (CRITPD), where he’s worked since 2001. He’s been assigned to the Fisheries Enforcement Program, Cultural Resource Protection Program and the Criminal Enforcement Program.