The St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police will be a new presence at the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino.
The tribal council announced January 17 that it has negotiated successfully with New York State to reduce the number of state police involved in oversight of the casino from 17 to five officers. The remaining five will conduct background checks. The agreement went into effect on January 1, 2012.
“The tribe will achieve a significant cost savings in policing fees paid to the state of New York,” Tribal Chief Mark Garrow said in a press release January 17. The tribe has seen significant increases in state policing costs in recently years, Garrow said, with payments of between $2 million and $3.4 million per year. The reduction in the state police casino detail will result in a reduction of approximately 60 percent or up to more than $2 million a year in payments to the state.
The Akwesasne Casino opened in 1999, but tribal police were not state certified at the time and so they could not oversee the casino. The tribal-state gaming compact provides for the tribal police to assume criminal jurisdiction once they were certified, but it required the agreement of New York State. “The Tribal Police are now able to conduct the public safety function in the casino,” Tribal Chief Randy Hart said. “We are confident that they will do a fine job.”
A tribal member who asked not to be named said the tribal police were certified a long time ago, but the state “dragged its feet” on implementing its part of the agreement. “Once the tribal police were certified, the tribe approached the state and said, ‘We want to take over our own policing,’ but under (former governor Eliot) Spitzer and (former governor) David Paterson they just basically blew us off,” he said.
The tribe also objected at the high number of state police assigned to the casino, saying the number was not justified by the level of criminal calls taking place, which was very low. “The state pretty much ignored those objections,” Tribal Chief Ron LaFrance said, “but with the change in administration last year, we’ve been able to move forward on this issue.” Governor Cuomo’s staff came to the table prepared to negotiate in a way not seen previously, the chiefs said.
The Tribal Police Department is capable of handling the additional workload at this time with their current staffing, the chiefs said. Chief Police Andy Thomas may recommend that additional officers are necessary if that’s the case, but not much crime occurs at the casino and the police only rarely make arrests, the chiefs said. The majority of calls involve minor theft, theft of slot machine tickets and the occasional disorderly patron. The state police will continue to provide a small contingent to conduct background investigations necessary for Class III gaming licenses.