SACRAMENTO, Calif. – In a surprising move April 8, the Cabazon Band of
Mission Indians dismantled its tribal public safety departments, both police and fire, to focus on its casino resort.
An additional six administrators were among the estimated 35 employees also laid off in the move, from which the tribe expects to save $5.5 million. The move is surprising because Cabazon had been at the forefront of the struggle to cross-deputize tribal police officers and make them full-fledged California peace officers.
“I’m really sad to see them go,” said Olin Jones, director of the California Department of Justice’s Office of Native American Affairs.
Though Jones did not know many of the details, he noted that he had “seen it coming for a while.”
The move does not affect the 40-member security staff at the tribe’s Fantasy Springs Casino in the southern California desert town of Indio. In fact, the new tribal emphasis on its casino is reflected in recent hiring trends, as Fantasy Springs recently hired 600 employees.
There is speculation that Cabazon is feeling the squeeze from other nearby casinos. Morongo, for instance, just underwent a mammoth expansion that resulted in a large-scale December opening. Overall, there are nearly a half-dozen casinos within a short drive of Cabazon.
Calls to Cabazon were not returned by press time.
Riverside County Supervisor Roy Wilson said the tribe’s action will result in decreased response times for the local fire department. The tribal fire department was situated near the casino and now the response time for emergencies will increase to an average of seven minutes. Most calls to the fire department, said Wilson, are for medical emergencies.
Wilson said the move to disband the fire department was a surprise.
“They told us last week that they were thinking about the disbanding of their police department, but they gave no heads-up that they were going to get rid of their fire department as well,” said Wilson.
On the police department’s dissolution, Wilson said that during his talks with Cabazon tribal officials last week, they reasoned that when the tribal police department had to make an arrest, they had to turn the suspect over to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. The county sheriff also patrols the reservation on a regular basis.
No estimates had been made as to what additional costs would be placed upon the county services. Wilson said several proposals are currently on the table, such as stationing a medic near the tribal casino.
Wilson reported that he had not been able to contact Cabazon officials since they made the move, though he said he left phone messages for the tribe.
Cabazon had actively participated in several meetings with the California DOJ and law enforcement groups over the past four years to grant full California Peace Officer rights to its tribal law enforcement.
Despite making significant headway, especially over issues like police training standards for tribal cops, the issue was hung up largely because of liability caps. The tribes wanted to cap liability at $5 million and the state disagreed, stalling the issue for the last few years.