CNMS doing more with lowest-staffed force

12/27/2017 12:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation Marshal Shannon Buhl discusses in a 2017 Rules Committee meeting why the Marshal Service is limited in its number of officers and ways he is compensating to make the most impact in the CN. COURTESY
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation marshals load supplies into a trailer on Aug. 29 before deploying to Houston to assist victims in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Not only do marshals patrol the CN’s jurisdiction, it also helps with natural disasters in other areas. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
The Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction covers a 14-county area in northeastern Oklahoma. The Cherokee Nation Marshal Service has 33 officers to patrol about 9,000 square miles and is the lowest-staffed tribal police department per capita in the country. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In a 2017 Rules Committee meeting, Marshal Shannon Buhl told Tribal Councilors the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service has fewer marshals than needed because of budgetary reasons. With a staff of 33, the CNMS patrols the 14-county jurisdiction, about 9,000 square miles, 24 hours a day seven days a week in 56 criminal jurisdictions.

“By the BIA’s (Bureau of Indian Affairs) calculations last year (2016), we’re the lowest-staffed tribal police department per capita in the entire nation. We’re last,” Buhl said.

He said the BIA studied what the efficient number of tribal officers is needed for a jurisdiction of CN’s size, and the minimum number needed was 86. The maximum was 283.

Buhl said cost is the main reason why the number of marshals is low. “Individual marshal are very expensive creatures. Because with a marshal also comes a vehicle, bulletproof vests, guns, training, equipment that equals a very large sum of money. So we always have to adjust between how many marshals we need and the budgetary impact on the tribe.”

Hiring one marshal equates to $140,000 for the equipment and training needed, he said.

Buhl said because of expense it’s not plausible or easy to request funding from the tribe to hire the optimum amount of officers. He added that even if the funds were there it wouldn’t be easy to find enough applicants because the process is “stringent.”

He said applicants must meet all qualifications and pass tests and interviews, including a physical fitness test, written exam, the Sergeants Board and Command Level Board.

“Its about three years before a marshal is comfortable to do everything they need to do out in Indian Country,” Buhl said. “New marshals have a lot of blood, sweat and tears and time invested in becoming that marshal.”

To compensate, Buhl said the CNMS has found ways to provide the needed services to Cherokee people. One way is cross-deputization agreements with 56 criminal jurisdictions on local and state levels. This means if a situation requires law enforcement on tribal lands, non-tribal law enforcement can cross that jurisdiction until the appropriate law enforcement arrives.

“We increase our numbers by those cooperative partnerships around our 14 counties. If it wasn’t for them, there’s no way we could come and do our job,” Buhl said.

Marshals must also constantly train to know the 56 jurisdictions’ respective policies and procedures. “We do everything from a traffic ticket up to multiple homicide, rapes, robberies, murders, child molestations, financial crimes. If it’s a minor or major case in Indian Country we work it. It’s very training intense. It’s important that I keep the officers on the forefront of their training because untrained officers are not going to do the right things. They’re going to hesitate. They’re going to do inappropriate things and cost the community in the long run.”
The CNMS also recently received a federal grant to add computers in marshal vehicles, allowing marshals to write reports while in the field.

“That in of itself has increased our productivity in those communities. Now instead of spending two hours doing reports in the office, they can spend that two hours out in our communities. It’s options like that that we’re really looking at,” Buhl said.

He said he’s always looking at CNMS operations to see where he can maximize performance.

“I don’t want people to think that we’re being mistreated because we’re absolutely not,” he said.

“I’ve been here for 17 years, and I can say this unequivocally that since Bill John Baker’s been the chief, the Marshal Service has gotten more equipment, more money, more training, and more support than any administration I’ve seen in 17 years.”

For more information, call 918-207-3800 or email

Becoming a Cherokee Nation marshal

• Apply through Human Resources,

• After meeting qualifications, one must take and pass a physical fitness test, which includes a bench press, a stretch box, shuttle run and a timed 1.5 mile run,

• Take and pass a written exam with a score of 70 percent or higher,

• Pass the Sergeants Board, which is an oral board comprised of five sergeants and one lieutenant,

• Pass the Command Level Board, which is an oral board comprised of three captains who conduct a 2.5- to 3-hour interview,

• Once hired, read and study all policies of the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service,

• Train at the Federal Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico, for a total of four months.

• Pass the Oklahoma CLEET Reciprocity exam to certify as an Oklahoma police officer, and

• Train in the field officer training program for a total of four months and be evaluated by select field officers.
About the Author • 918-772-4223
Lindsey Bark grew up and resides in the Tagg Flats community in Delaware County. She graduated from Northeastern State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, emphasizing in journalism. She started working for the Cherokee Phoenix in 2016. Working for the Cherokee Phoenix, Lindsey hopes to ...


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