Chief William Elliott started in early March, hopes improve community relations.

TERESA JACKSON/MADRAS PIONEER - Warm Springs Tribal Police Chief William Elliott took the job in early March, just before shutdowns due to COVID-19. This photo was taken from more than 6 feet away.Warm Springs Tribal Police Chief William Elliott joined the department in early March, just before Gov. Kate Brown ordered shutdowns due to COVID-19.

That's been the biggest challenge of the new job so far.

"There's a lot of different ways you'd like to introduce yourself," Elliott said.

He'd hoped to have community meetings and do more outreach.

"But it's tough now," he said. People can't even see his ready smile behind a mask, and gatherings are out of the question.

Reaching out

Still, the department has started a Facebook page, and one officer is assigned to community relations. Officers also reach contact people if there is a death in the family.

The student resource officer is delivering food to people's homes, as are corrections officers because the jail has been closed due to lack of repairs, which Elliott has requested from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

"In that aspect, I've very proud of this department. To me, that's more of a sign of success than arrests."

Elliott wants to continue making the department's work transparent.

"The community then knows what we're doing, and it takes a lot of angst off the community," Elliott said. "It cuts down on people speculating, and that leads to misunderstandings."

He's open to answering questions himself, and he wants staff to do the same.

His goals? "A lot more community policing, transparency, making sure everybody listens to the community.

"We want the department to grow. We want more tribal involvement, that's for sure," he said. That takes education and recruitment, he said.

The department "was struggling with an image problem, just from the fact the community didn't know them personally," Elliott said.

But the officers are doing a good job, he said, and they're very professional.

Working with other agencies

"Working in tribes is always unique (because) you do have that crossover jurisdiction," Elliott said. "They all have their nuances."

Officers have to work with county, state, and federal agencies, each with different procedures and rules.

"They have to be trained up to handle all these different aspects," Elliott said. "People don't understand that that's a lot of responsibility for officers to have. ... Making those determinations when you're out in the field is a lot to handle."

Elliott said the department has a strong investigative team, and it works with other agencies, too. One person is assigned to the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement team.

"Drug traffickers don't worry about jurisdiction issues," Elliott said.

The state and federal government have started allocating resources to the problem of missing and murdered Indigenous people, as well.

Many people go missing off the reservation, Elliott said.

But that doesn't mean the Warm Springs Tribal Police Department will drop the cases.

"The policy here is we will follow up on missing people cases," Elliott said. "They're not going to go dead. ... If it's important to he family, it's important to the department.

"Our investigators are federally commissioned, so we can leave these mountains if we need to," Elliott said. "It's a matter of coordination and cooperation with other agencies. It's just a matter of time."

A life in law enforcement

Elliott knows about working with different jurisdictions firsthand. He has a long history of law enforcement experience and work with a variety of agencies, and he said that puts him in a position to speak from experience rather than emotion when he needs to make a point.

He was in the military as a young man and then worked for the U.S. Border Patrol in the 1970s.

He moved to Oregon to work as a deputy sheriff in Klamath County.

Then Elliott was hired a special agent of the U.S. Forest Service out of Bend.

"Back then, the Forest Service didn't have law enforcement," Elliott said. "They determined that there was a need at that time. ... Since I had some federal tenure from my Border Patrol time ... I could come back in the federal service, and I did."

That was a unique experience, Elliott said. "They were trying to figure out this law enforcement component."

Elliott then worked as a special agent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and he was posted in Warm Springs.

After that, he worked for the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Land Management.

He also worked on domestic terrorism and at the department's headquarters in Washington, D.C. — "just a whole menagerie of things," he said.

He retired from federal service and then spent a year with the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan.

Later, he trained police and security forces with the State Department under the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement in the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon, among other places.

Coming back to Warm Springs

"My wife buried my passport," he said, "then I came back here."

Elliott lives in Vancouver, Washington, and is looking for a local home.

He knew the Tribes' general manager from work he had done developing an emergency management program for the Cowlitz Tribe.

"They asked me if I'd come up here and interview," Elliott said.

"Taking a chief of police job at the beginning of a plague and civil unrest in the country, and now a fire, it's like going through the apocalypse," he said.

He's also frustrated with the BIA. He has a neat, thick stack of repair sheets he's submitted to the federal agency on his desk.

"It's their fiduciary responsibility, and they refuse to do it," he said.

The HVAC system in the building is out. BIA has put a rush on it, which they've said means it will take another two and a half months, Elliott said. Inmates are being sent to The Dalles. But that affects the Warm Springs community, Elliott said. Inmates are supposed to be housed in a facility that guards their civil rights. The tribal government is doing its part, but the federal government is not, he said.

Still, he's enjoying the job and the people he works with, and he said he appreciates "the support that I've been given from the tribal government and the people," as well as other agencies.

"It's been a seamless fit," Elliott said.

He can't thank Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins enough "for

being inclusive," Elliott said. "And that's what it takes for all of us, all being inclusive."

Elliott is a member of the Kiowa Tribe, and many of his family members still live in Oklahoma. He said that helps him be empathetic.

"Here is a good place to live, and so my job is just to make sure the people are protected as they seek out this living and whatever they want to do," he said.

And while some things look different than when he worked in Warm Springs years ago, Elliott thinks the community hasn't changed in fundamental ways.

"I don't think the character of the community's changing," Elliott said. "I think it's always been a strong community. It's always been a welcoming community. I think there are so many good people on this reservation, so I feel honored to be in a position to help in whatever way I can."

You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.