HOULTON, Maine — The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians has had its own police department since 2003, when the tribe used U.S. Department of Justice funding to hire a police chief.
Two years later, a law was passed to allow the Maliseets to appoint tribal law enforcement officers with the authority to enforce the laws of the state, and a justice department grant funded two positions.
Finances for the department have been shaky in recent years, but tribal officials believe a federal grant is going to help them rebuild the department and put more officers on patrol.
U.S. Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins announced recently that the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services has awarded the band $151,733 in funding through the Tribal Resources Grant Program, which supports American Indian law enforcement agencies.
Tribal Chief Brenda Commander said Thursday that the money would help the tribe hire another officer to work for the department.
“We were really pleased to hear that we received the money,” she said. “This is a three-year grant that is going to put another officer out on tribal lands.”
The tribe’s police officers work cooperatively with local, county and state police departments, and officers can enforce laws on and off tribal land.
When the original grant funding ran out, the tribe had to cut an officer, leaving one officer remaining at the Police Department.
“We are going to be able to hire another officer with this money, and this will give us the time to save money to fund the position after the grant money runs out,” said Commander.
She added that one of the terms of the grant is that the tribe must come up with its own money to hire the officer for a certain amount of time after the funding runs out.
The chief said the Police Department has been an asset to the tribe, adding that crime has lessened since the agency was established.
“Our tribal members say that they feel safer,” Commander said. “They like the police presence, and these officers have become part of our community.”
Commander said the process of creating the Police Department has been smooth. She credited local law enforcement with easing the transition.
“We have a great relationship with the Houlton Police Department and other agencies around here,” she said. “That has been crucial to our success. We will continue to work on those relationships as we move forward.”
Snowe and Collins said in a joint statement that “this grant funding will greatly aid with the Houlton Band of Maliseets’ law enforcement practices. It is vital that community law enforcement professionals and agencies are adequately supported in their mission to keep our communities safe and it is our hope that this funding will allow the tribe to increase their law enforcement presence.”
The COPS TRGP funds salaries and benefits for new community policing officers, basic equipment, crime-fighting technology systems, and training in American Indian communities. Since 1995, COPS has provided more than $289.1 million to American Indian law enforcement agencies.
Commander said the tribe would begin searching for a new officer once all of the grant paperwork is signed.