Hiring hurdles expected in CN Marshal Service

BY CHAD HUNTER
Reporter
11/13/2020 08:30 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation Marshal Service Director Shannon Buhl addressees the Tribal Council’s Rules Committee on Oct. 29. Buhl told councilors the CNMS currently employs more than 30 deputy marshals. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation’s Marshal Service director anticipates he’ll need to beef up his ranks to deal with fallout from the historic McGirt v. Oklahoma decision, but says it will be an uphill climb due in part to lack of a retirement plan.

“It would be very rare that we would be able to hire a police officer from any community out there that has a 20-year law enforcement retirement even if we could pay more,” CNMS Director Shannon Buhl told Tribal Councilors in October. “On average, we pay more than any other agency in eastern Oklahoma. But we lose officers to other agencies solely because of the retirement those other agencies offer.”

The tribe currently employs 30-plus deputy marshals with jurisdiction throughout the CN. Buhl said the CNMS was in the process of filling two vacant deputy marshal positions.

However, to deal with an expected increase in the law enforcement workload – based on the McGirt ruling – many more deputy marshals and other staff will be needed, Buhl said. A 5-4 ruling handed down July 9 by the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Seminole Nation citizen Jimcy McGirt, a convicted child molester who claimed Oklahoma courts had no authority to try him for a crime committed on Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation land. The decision’s potential impact on territorial rights and criminal jurisdiction for all eastern Oklahoma tribes prompted the CN to establish a sovereignty commission and pass an act expanding its judiciary, prosecution staff and CNMS.

“If McGirt stands … you’re looking at a substantial money cost to the tribe,” Buhl said. “It’s not just marshal costs; it’s incarceration costs. Our incarceration budget averages about $30,000 to $40,000 a year and has been for about the past 12 to 14 years. I mean you’re looking at now incarceration costs … in the millions. We’re looking at $5 million, $10 million, $15 million a year just in incarceration costs alone. So this is a huge undertaking.”

Buhl said the CN sovereignty commission has talked about potential costs that also include “not just uniformed officers, but support staff, dispatchers, 911 operators, the federal sex offender registry.”

“When McGirt hits here, we’ll have anywhere from 2,000 to 14,000 registered sex offenders that we will have to start watching,” he added. “That’s huge numbers.”

Attorney General Sara Hill said her office has also embarked on the “all-consuming task” of preparing for McGirt-related issues.

“We are working to be sure we are ready to handle, as much as we can be, the criminal cases that will be headed our way,” she said. “I’ve hired two new attorneys scheduled to start in November. I also plan to hire additional attorneys, investigators and paralegals in the coming weeks.”

Tribal Councilor Mike Shambaugh, who is also the longtime Jay police chief, noted that finding enough qualified candidates to fill deputy marshal roles “will be very daunting.”

“I think people need to understand that it is a long process and this is going to be very, very difficult to do,” he said.

Implementing a formal retirement plan for law enforcement, Buhl said, would cost the tribe millions.

“Law enforcement retirements, they do 20 years, they retire with about a $300,000 check in their pocket and 65% of their pay the rest of their life,” he said. “That’s a substantial amount of money that the tribe would be on the hook for. That’s why I have never brought it in front of the Council, because, quite frankly, we’re talking millions of dollars to get that program started.”

Even without a retirement plan to lure new deputy marshals, “I think we’ll be able to hire good candidates,” Buhl said.

“But, you know, if you gave me the money I needed to hire everybody today,” he said, “we’re still a couple years out before we even approach the amount of officers that we need for this.”
About the Author
Chad Hunter has spent more than two decades in the newspaper industry as a reporter and editor in Arkansas, Oklahoma and his home state of Missouri. He began working for the Cherokee Phoenix in late  ...
chad-hunter@cherokee.org • 918-453-5269
Chad Hunter has spent more than two decades in the newspaper industry as a reporter and editor in Arkansas, Oklahoma and his home state of Missouri. He began working for the Cherokee Phoenix in late ...

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