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Official: Mohegan police ready for a bigger role

By Brian Hallenbeck

Publication: The Day

Published June 03. 2012 4:00AM
Tribe's chief of staff says officers already have certification required by state

An official of the Mohegan Tribe asserted Friday that the tribe's police department is "extremely well-trained" and capable of assuming greater responsibility for public safety inside the tribe's Mohegan Sun casino.

"Every one of our 25 Mohegan tribal police are POST-certified, meaning they've gone through the Connecticut State Police Academy," Chuck Bunnell, the tribe's chief of staff for external and governmental affairs, said. "They've all either worked as Connecticut state police officers or were in local departments before we hired them."

State police are certified by the state's Police Officer Standards and Training Council.

Bunnell said the tribe requires its officers to maintain state certification as a condition of employment.

Both the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes have been negotiating a reduction in the state police presence at Mohegan Sun and at Foxwoods Resort Casino, which the Mashantuckets own. Such a transfer of responsibility could save the tribes millions of dollars and enable the state to reassign troopers from the casinos to the road.

An Associated Press report last week raised questions about the Mashantucket tribal police force's ability to assume a greater role in its gaming facilities, which include MGM Grand at Foxwoods. At about the same time, Mashantucket Police Chief Dan Collins resigned.

The AP story quoted former Mashantucket tribal police officers who said the force is understaffed and Collins yielded to inappropriate influence by members of the tribal council, which governs the tribe.

According to a source with knowledge of tribal affairs, the council removed Collins from his position Wednesday and allowed him back into his office Thursday to collect belongings. Neither Collins nor tribal officials have responded to requests for comment.

Bunnell said the Mohegans pay the state about $200,000 a year for each state police officer assigned to Mohegan Sun, far more than a tribal officer would cost. Typically, the state officers assigned to casinos are veterans who earn top wages or have retired as regular officers and whose pension payments grow as they continue working.

"We spend millions on police coverage," Bunnell said. "To pay $200,000 for a state police officer when we can have a POST-certified (tribal) officer for 25 percent of that doesn't make a lot of sense."

Bunnell said the tribe and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration are working out the number of tribal police the Mohegans would have to add to their force if they were to assume greater responsibility at the casino.

The gaming compacts each tribe has with the state say only that tribal and state law enforcement agencies "may exercise concurrent authority" in gaming facilities.

Currently, Bunnell said, at least six Mohegan tribal police are on duty at any one time, with responsibility for the casino as well as the rest of the Mohegan reservation.

He went on to extoll the qualifications of the Mohegan tribal police force leadership.

Frank Gavigan, tribal police chief, is a former Norwich police captain. He answers to Joseph Lavin, executive director of public safety and surveillance, who is a former state police officer, as is his deputy, Jeff Hotsky. Lavin answers to Phil Cahill, the tribe's chief operating officer, who answers to the tribal council.

It could not be readily learned how many Mashantucket tribal police have state certification. At least one has received training at the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs' Indian Police Academy in Artesia, N.M.

A spokesman for the governor indicated Friday that state police aren't about to withdraw completely from the casinos.

"Troopers will continue to patrol the casinos, there just won't be a fixed deployment of troopers specific to the casino," Andrew Doba wrote in an email response to a reporter's questions. "The Commissioner (of public safety) will decide where and how to assign troopers in the future."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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