In the last few years, a special task force has been steadily gaining steam in Wisconsin’s Indian country. It’s called the Native American Drug and Gang Initiative (NADGI), and it’s dedicated to sharing information and combining investigative resources to reduce violence and crime on reservations and in their surrounding communities.
Just recently, NADGI worked with the Red Cliff Police Department, the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation (DOJ/DCI), the Bayfield County Sheriff’s Department and the United States Border Patrol to complete a month-long investigation on the Red Cliff Indian Reservation in northwest Wisconsin. When Operation Paladin concluded on June 24, five suspects were in custody.
It was another significant accomplishment for the task force, which Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin Chief of Police Rich Van Boxtel said first took shape in early 2007.
“Of the 11 tribes in Wisconsin, only eight had their own police departments in late 2006 or early ’07,” Van Boxtel recalled. “We met once per quarter to discuss issues affecting us at home, and we found that there were a lot of cross-jurisdictional drug- and gang-related issues. But we couldn’t combat them by ourselves.”
With the help of the Wisconsin DOJ/DCI, the eight tribes — Bad River Band of Lake Superior Tribe, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, Oneida, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, St. Croix Chippewa Indians, Stockbridge-Munsee Community (a ninth, the Ho-Chunk Nation, joined later) — formed an organization that would foster meaningful collaboration between Wisconsin tribal law enforcement agencies and the Wisconsin DOJ/DCI to fight illegal drug and gang activities on the reservations.
After NADGI was recognized as the 18th Wisconsin Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Enforcement Group, the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance (OJA) provided grant funding. Then, the Wisconsin DOJ/DCI assigned a special agent to serve as task force commander.
“We’re an unusual group,” observed Van Boxtel, who has been NADGI’s chairperson since the beginning. “Other drug task forces are geographically connected, but we’re spread across the entire state — driving from Oneida to Red Cliff takes five hours! Plus, this is part-time work for tribal law enforcement. Everyone still has normal patrol duties and so on.”
Currently, there are roughly 30 tribal officers involved in the task force. They work on NADGI business as they have time, or if there is an ongoing investigation.
“The task force is a force multiplier,” Van Boxtel said, “because when you have an action on a reservation, the vast majority of NADGI people there are from other tribes.”
The Wisconsin OJA remains NADGI’s primary supporter, with funding allocated for training, equipment and supplies. Van Boxtel said the state’s support is critical.
“What’s happening in Indian country is spilling over into non-Native communities as well,” he explained. “We need to be able to share information and access the appropriate training and equipment. It’s always been out there, but tribal law enforcement didn’t have the resources. With the OJA funding, we can get what we need.”
This means that all agencies are trained to use the Augmented Criminal Investigation Support System (ACISS), and all investigators attend the basic DCI Drug Investigation School and DCI-sponsored Tactical Applications Training. They also receive all necessary gear and learn how to use it.
The program seems to be working. Not only has NADGI opened many cases across Wisconsin, it has partnered with the Wisconsin Alliance for Drug Endangered Children to provide DEC programs for all 11 Wisconsin tribes. It also has educated communities about drug and gang issues and collaborated with sheriff departments that serve reservations lacking their own tribal law enforcement, such as the Forest County Potawatomi Reservation.
“Each reservation is unique, with different challenges,” Van Boxtel said. “So if a tribe has a specific issue, we have the ability to work closely with the community to assess the problem and come up with a plan to deal with it.”
He did note that NADGI has its own challenges.
“It’s not all sunshine and roses,” he commented. “We’ve had obstacles to overcome. But we’re working hard, and we’re very fortunate to have the support that we do.”