LEDYARD, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut tribe is moving to give its own police department a larger role inside its Foxwoods Resort Casino, but several former department employees say it can barely manage to patrol the tiny reservation, let alone the Western Hemisphere's largest casino.
Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation officers drive cruisers and carry guns, but the former employees say they resemble private security guards more than agents of the law. The department takes orders directly from tribal council members, blocks officers from pursuing investigations and has turned a blind eye to the sale of illegal drugs, ex-officers said in interviews with The Associated Press.
"The chief doesn't want tribal members to be investigated, to be prosecuted in any way, because then it comes back on him," said Steve Saucier, who worked part-time for the department until leaving in November. "If we do arrest somebody and it goes to tribal court, they throw it out. It does absolutely nothing."
The tribe has been pressing for its own police to replace state troopers in the casino — a change that could bring millions of dollars in savings annually for the Pequots, who have to reimburse the state for security coverage and are struggling with more than $2 billion in debt. The office of Connecticut's governor, which wants to put more troopers on the roads, has already reduced the security bill conditionally as it waits for tribal officers to obtain certifications they would need to be able to arrest non-tribal members.
The tribe's chief of police, Daniel Collins, resigned following inquiries to the tribe by the AP. His departure was announced internally on Thursday, said two tribal government employees who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal affairs. A spokesman for the tribe did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment about the resignation.
In response to the AP's findings, Mike Lawlor, the governor's liaison on criminal justice policy, said the agreement depends on tribal police agreeing to abide by the state's standards. He said state attorneys are working out how to determine whether and when the tribe is ready.
"It's definitely in their interest to get them into a position where they would have full-fledged powers," Lawlor said. "If they don't, they won't get them."
The tribal council defended its police force.
"The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation Police force is fully trained and very competent to continue the policing of our gaming enterprise," the council said in a written statement.
One of the most pressing obstacles would be manpower.
The Pequots told the Connecticut governor's office as part of their proposal in July 2011 that they have 15 police officers, according to documents obtained by the AP through a Freedom of Information Act request.
But the tribal police have only nine officers, including the chief and two officers who recently joined from a training academy, according to two tribal government employees who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal affairs. Former officers say the department is stretched so thin that officers can barely cover shifts and emergency calls about fights and domestic disputes at times have to wait. Roughly 900 tribal members live in and around the Pequots' two-square-mile reservation. Some tribal officers have American Indian heritage but they are not required to be Pequot members.