Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

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The Choctaw Nation SWAT team in front of the new Public Safety office before another intense day of training.

To better protect and serve: Choctaw Nation Public Safety gets upgrades in the new year

By BRET MOSS Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

Great strides have recently been made for the Choctaw Nation Public Safety Department. With new equipment, facilities and access to quicker information, Public Safety is better prepared than ever to serve and protect the people of the Choctaw Nation.

To kick off 2012, the administration of the Public Safety moved into the former Durant Head Start building, which has been renovated to make excellent office space for those housed at the Tribal Headquarters.

“We are extremely excited,” declared Executive Director of Public Safety John Hobbs, whose office is in the new facility. The older space was cramped with not enough storage space, but now “we can feel comfortable and not have to share desks,” he continued.

The new offices are not the only aspect adding excitement to the new year, Tribal Police now have access to the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Telecommunication System (OLETS). This is a system that has, until now, been predominantly available to state agencies.

OLETS will allow officers to contact Choctaw Nation 24-hour dispatch who can quickly check information on vehicle tags, drivers licenses, warrants, check for stolen items and criminal histories, along with many facts that will be helpful to officers in the field.

“In the past, we had to rely on the local law enforcement agencies,” stated Hobbs as he recalled the process prior to OLETS. The Choctaw officers would have to dial the local dispatch via cell phone and have them search the OLETS data, putting extra work on the local law enforcement, and adding time to traffic stops.

With the system in place, the Choctaw Police can be reliant on the Choctaw dispatch, giving them more speed and safety in situations, as well as relieving the local dispatch from extra duties.

Choctaw Public Safety Dispatch has 12 certified operators who are the only personnel who may access OLETS. They are housed in the Casino and Resort in Durant and are supervised by the Choctaw Nation Security division of the Public Safety Department led by Scott Harper.

With OLETS access in place, Hobbs and the rest of Public Safety have now set their sights on a radio system for officers out of range of the dispatch. Officers stationed outside radio range of dispatch still need to use cell phones to call for OLETS information.

From a safety standpoint, ”If we have an officer wounded, it is easier for him to key a radio and call for help than to start trying to dial a number,” stated Hobbs as he discussed the benefits of a nationwide radio.

Officers within range of local law enforcement can already radio the closest department if they are in immediate need. When help is needed, a cross-deputization agreement allows local police to interact in Choctaw Nation affairs and vice-versa. “They are right there beside us to help us and back us up,” said Hobbs.

Even with local support on standby, the Choctaw Nation officers need to have a quick connection to other Choctaw police, and because of this, the Public Safety Department is working on an innovative way to get them connected.

Conventional radio requires many repeater towers to relay signals over large areas such as the 10.5 counties of the Choctaw Nation. This hardware would be physically and financially unfeasible. For this reason, the Public Safety is working to set up an IP radio system.

This system will broadcast over the Internet, which will allow signal to travel much further and be broadcast at the nearest repeater to the recipient. The radio system will first be in place in the hotspots, such as hospitals, casinos and schools.

Public Safety is not only improving its ability to protect and serve, but also helping others. One way will be some members of public safety participating in the Polar Plunge, which is to be held Feb. 4, 2012, at the Oasis located in the Durant resort. The Polar Plunge is an event where individuals jump into water during one of the coldest months of the year to raise money for Special Olympics.

The Choctaw Nation DARE officer is also increasing his impact with the Choctaw people by taking on more schools to finish out the year. Latimer County was without a DARE officer to finish the school year, but Tribal DARE officer Isaac James stepped in to make sure the children received their full education on such an important subject. He now covers Clayton, Haileyville, Red Oak, Buffalo Valley, Wilburton and Panola.

Other notable facts about the Public Safety Department include the Bike Patrol at the Durant, Grant and Pocola casinos. These are security personnel who are certified by International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA), an organization that trains bike police all over the world.

These security guards patrol the large parking lots of the casinos to make sure patrons are not only safe inside the building, but outside as well. “It’s not a second-rate course… it’s the exact same course any police officer goes to,” said Hobbs as he explained how the security officers receive the same training as the police.

IPMBA teaches how to use the bike as a defensive weapon, stop the bike without putting feet down, maneuver in extremely tight areas and even how to crash properly.

One of the most exciting, but little known aspects of Choctaw Nation Public Safety is the SWAT team. It is comprised of 10 men - four firearms instructors, two are defensive tactics instructors and two certified snipers.

Though they have not had to respond to a call to date, they stand prepared for any situation that has escalated beyond the equipment and training of a standard law enforcement agency. These men are 10 of the 31 tribal police officers, who are always ready to assemble in case of an emergency.

They received their basic SWAT training at Sothern Methodist University in Dallas a little over a year ago and have been regularly training ever since. They are constantly being trained to use special equipment, weapons and tactics

Hobbs acts not only as the executive director of the department, but the SWAT team commander. “I do everything they do,” said Hobbs as he spoke of the intense training the team undergoes. He has two team leaders under his command in case the team needs to split during a mission.

This team is relatively new, but is constantly bettering themselves. They are equipped with everything they need to deal with high-risk situations, such as thermal and night vision, gas masks and suppressed fully automatic weapons.

One of the greatest assets the team has is its knowledge of Choctaw Nation facilities. “They know our buildings, where outside agencies won’t,” added Harper. This will allow them to plan their moves in a quick and efficient manner.