Chandler PD forms new partnership with FBI The Chandler Arizonan

Chandler PD forms new partnership with FBI

Chandler PD forms new partnership with FBI
City News

By Kevin Reagan
Arizonan Staff Writer

The Chandler Police Department is forming a new partnership with the FBI that could grant investigators better access to the Gila River Indian Community.

The city authorized a five-year agreement with the federal agency to form a special task force that will pool together resources to combat crimes taking place on or near the neighboring Native American reservation.

Chandler shares its southern border with the Gila River reservation, which encompasses 580 square miles of land between Casa Grande and Ahwatukee.

Because Arizona’s reservations are considered sovereign nations, states and cities don’t always have the legal jurisdiction to come onto Native land for matters related to public safety.

But the FBI has the authority and responsibility to investigate any murder, rape or financial crime on a reservation. More than 140 FBI agents are presently assigned to investigate serious crimes on the country’s tribal communities.

“Chandler is limited in its ability to work within reservation boundaries,” a Police Department memo states. “This cooperative agreement will increase Chandler’s ability to work with GRIC to pursue investigations onto the reservation to solve the many crimes that impact Chandler.”

Sgt. Jason McClimans said Chandler Police will assign at least three detectives from its Criminal Investigations Bureau to the FBI task force.

Gila River Police will also dedicate resources to the partnership, he added, as the task force begins to take shape over the next couple months.

According to city documents, the FBI task force will primarily focus on investigating crimes involving drug trafficking, money laundering, alien smuggling and gang activity.

Nearly 75 percent of all crimes the FBI investigates on tribal land involves homicides and dangerous crimes committed against children.

The new agreement allows for the federal government to potentially reimburse Chandler Police any overtime expenses for city detectives participating in task force investigations.

Former FBI Director James Comey once described the government’s arrangement with tribal communities as a “complex maze” of jurisdictional boundaries that inadvertently end up slowing down investigations.

FBI agents are liable for covering 56 million acres of tribal land, Comey said, making it necessary for them to partner with nearby municipalities to investigate crimes.

“The number of agents, the vast territory, the egregious nature of crime being investigated, and the high frequency of the violent crime handled by these agents makes their responsibility exceedingly arduous,” Comey told Congress in 2015.

Chandler’s proximity to Gila River has often resulted in crimes spilling across the city’s border to the reservation.

Last month, a 21-year-old murder suspect led authorities on a car chase through the reservation after he allegedly killed an elderly man at a Circle K in Chandler.

Chandler Police had attempted to apprehend the suspect within the city limits before the driver crossed over onto the reservation, where he was ultimately captured by tribal authorities.

Though the suspect was caught on tribal land, he is being prosecuted by state authorities since his initial crimes were committed in Chandler – a factor that can easily change by crossing geographic borders.

In 2014, a 30-year-old member of the Gila River tribe was prosecuted by federal officials for a series of crimes that had originally started in Chandler.

The suspect had met up with a man in Chandler and lured him back to a desolate part of reservation, where the victim was shot and killed. The suspect was ultimately convicted in federal court for murder and sentenced to life in prison.

The task force is being formed at a time when Gila River Police report a spike in violent crimes in recent years.

Data published by the FBI shows the number of violent crimes taking place on the reservation increased by more than 100 percent between 2016 and 2017.

Among the 19 tribes in Arizona that released crime data in 2017, the Gila River reservation had the third highest number of murders, rapes and assaults.   

The FBI first started forming task forces with local police departments in the 1990s after some reservations began experiencing a sudden increase in gang-related crimes.

In 1994, the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona became the first reservation to partner with the FBI to start a multi-jurisdictional task force aimed at combating crimes. The FBI now has more than a dozen task forces working with tribal and state police departments in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Oregon.

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