Fort Hall Police Department officers, from left, Mark Massey, FHPD Chief Pat Teton and Joe Roberts.
By LORI ANN EDMO
FORT HALL — The Fort Hall Police Department wants to do the best they can for the community said Fort Hall Police Chief Pat Teton because it means a lot to them.
“We have family out there and do the best we can – it keeps us motivated,” he said, especially when they solve or prevent crime.
With a recent murder and other drug-related crimes in the community, the FHPD has to stay motivated considering they have to cover the Fort Hall Indian Reservation that is over 546,000 acres.
“We try to make it a point to work with the community as far as collaborative efforts because a lot of times the community has more information than us,” Teton continued.
He said the tip411 line has made a difference because a lot of people want to be anonymous when reporting a crime. When someone texts information to the tip411 (847411) it goes direct to the Fort Hall Dispatch. It is also sent to Chief Teton and Captain Mark Massey who then follow-up with dispatch.
Community members can also call 208-238-4000 for an immediate or emergency response. The caller must provide basic information such as who, what, where, when and why.
Teton said the FHPD is being more proactive patrolling the Rez and that is why they have laptop computers in their vehicles so they can do reports out in the field. With the Tribes new addressing system, they can also utilize their laptops to determine a location using the Spillman software. They also have Wi-Fi (Internet access) in their patrol cars but a signal is hit and miss in the outlying Rez districts and concerning cell phones, there are also dead spots in certain areas including Interstate 15.
The FHPD currently has 13 patrol officers and three at the Indian Policy Academy (federal law enforcement) in New Mexico. When sent to the academy, it’s for 16 weeks of training. Once the officer’s graduate, they go through a 20-week field training process so they know what to expect. Teton said it takes about a year to train an officer once they are hired on. The FHPD budget covers 15 patrol officers, two officers at the Fort Hall Casino and an Indian Highway Safety officer. Because of the officers at training, a casino officer had to be put on patrol and the Highway Safety officer is vacant and they may be unable to fill it because it requires someone who is already certified.
He noted it’s hard to recruit people to be police officers especially with negative stuff in social media. “It makes it harder and harder to recruit tribal member officers,” adding they do their best to talk with them and it’s a good opportunity to establish a career. Some may not want to deal with their own family members or some may have a hard time being away from home when going to the academy because it’s about a 16-hour drive from Fort Hall.
Concerning police coverage, the standard is 2.8 officers per 1.000 people. About 7,000 to 8,000 people live on the Rez that would mean about 20 officers so Teton said they’re close to the numbers.
Regarding drugs – meth and heroin are a problem, along with opioids. With sale of beer and wine at the Shoshone-Bannock Hotel, Teton said hotel staff contact the FHPD when there may be parties or suspected drug use. Fort Hall Casino security officers also deal with incidents at the hotel.
When asked about particular houses where crime occurs, he said the homes have property owners so if they get calls about an incident, they can go by and take a look. A suggestion to remove a home from it’s location because of crime such as the house on B Street on the Fort Hall Townsite Teton said, “It’s still someone’s property – maybe if they’re violating an ordinance then it can be enforced.”
Regarding the Fort Hall Townsite and activity that may go on when it gets dark, he said they try to patrol throughout each shift. “It’s dark on the Townsite and it would be nice to have lighting,” he continued.
The FHPD is putting in for a grant through the Coordinated Tribal Assistant Grant from the Department of Justice to fund three radio repeaters for the outlying Rez districts to improve coverage. Teton said some coverage is spotty but the officers know which area to pull a car over.
Concerning solutions he encourages community members to contact the FHPD if something is not right. “Just because residents don’t see us, it doesn’t mean we are not there,” as they may be doing security checks in the area, he said.
Both Teton and Massey said they’ve seen progress in the FHPD since 1999. Massey said they have supervisor meetings every couple of weeks to come up with solutions how to do better. They are also sent to leadership training the Bureau of Indian Affairs offers to upgrade their skills and command schools. He said it’s about putting people in the right positions and paying attention to detail.
Teton encourages people to be proactive in their own homes – teach their kids right from wrong. He added substance abuse problems are a personal choice. Some think they can start using meth or heroin and stop but they never stop and hurt a lot of people along the way.
The FHPD is educating the community on drugs and has offered classes to the 477 Program, Early Childhood, Tribal Courts, to name a few and intend to go out to the Rez districts in March or April.
He added the community needs to come together, along with tribal departments because everyone is affected. “We all need to be involved to make it better – it’s not something that happened overnight and it’s not going to be solved overnight. It may be a long process – it’s not impossible but it can happen.”
The FHPD is getting six new Ford Expeditions this year and six Dodge Durango’s next year. Compared to some tribes, the FHPD is way advanced that provides advantages including being able to track calls.
In addition having Officer Schrock work as a collateral duty officer at the Shoshone-Bannock Jr./Sr. High School has helped in reducing juvenile crime as he interacts with kids at the school and Fort Hall Elementary.