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Press Release

Release Date: October 05, 2021
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

Ardmore, Okla – On July 16 an explosion at an Ardmore asphalt plant had Ardmore police scrambling to respond to the emergency.

In doing so, they had their hands full, leaving limited resources to attend to normal duties. Ardmore’s recently signed cross-deputation agreement with the Chickasaw Nation guaranteed a seamless response by Chickasaw Lighthorse officers who rushed to lend support.

On site, Lighthorse assisted by blocking traffic around the scene and relieving Ardmore officers so they could get back to their regular duties of answering calls in their jurisdiction.

Ardmore’s police chief says his reason for doing so is readily apparent and extends to a great deal more than rare emergency situations.

“It’s kind of obvious,” Ardmore Police Chief Kevin Norris said. “We needed the help just because of changes in the law. We have a high population of tribal members and, with the changes in the law, I felt it was necessary.”

Law changes Norris is referring to involve the 2020 Supreme Court decision reaffirming the existence of the Muscogee Creek Nation’s reservation. Subsequent rulings of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals likewise affirmed the reservations of the Chickasaw Nation and the others of the Five Nations of Eastern Oklahoma.

The court decisions mean crimes involving Native Americans within the Chickasaw Nation treaty territory are under the jurisdiction of federal or tribal courts and state law enforcement lacks jurisdiction.

Cross-deputation agreements between the Chickasaw Nation, counties and municipalities however, provide each law enforcement agency with the authority it needs to protect all residents, without regard to Native status or jurisdiction.

In addition to Ardmore, other local municipalities with police departments that have also signed agreements are Dickson, Healdton, Lone Grove, Wilson and Ratliff City.

Ratliff City Police Chief Robert Thornton says his town’s agreement has been place since 2011 and cooperation between the two entities includes more than just police work. “It’s been with the fire department and the police department,” Thornton said.

“We have a direct mutual aid with the Chickasaw fire side, including their ground-pounders (shovel, axe and chainsaw crews), as well as through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the forestry elements, and here with the police department. We’ve always had a good working relationship with the Chickasaw Nation,” he said.

Lone Grove Police Chief John Terry says his motivation for signing a cross-deputation agreement in May of this year was to ensure his department’s ability to serve all people who depend on it for protection.

“Clearly with the (court decisions) that came out, we were looking to serve all the citizens within our jurisdiction and not to exclude anyone,” Chief Terry said.

“This allows us to take care of simple matters because I know the Supreme Court decision has really stressed and taxed the Chickasaw Nation and their law enforcement abilities. It allows us to help serve them as well,” he said.

Counties and police departments in Oklahoma District 20 that have signed cross-deputation agreements with Chickasaw Lighthorse Police include Johnston County Sheriff’s Department and Tishomingo Police Department; Love County Sheriff’s Department and Marietta Police Department; Marshall County Sheriff’s Department and Kingston and Madill police departments; and Murray County Sheriff’s Department and Davis and Sulphur police departments.

“There are times when we need Lighthorse’s help and times when they need our help,” Norris said. “It’s always best to have that partnership in my opinion.”

Lighthorse Police Chief Mike Manning agrees.

“Ardmore Police Department has been a great partner and that has allowed us to provide police service to the people we serve,” Manning said. “By partnering together, we basically created a force multiplier. We’ve got more officers to be able to offer more enforcement and more police protection to the people in the city of Ardmore. We look forward to having many years of partnership with them.”

“It’s probably daily and definitely weekly where they are helping us or we’re helping them,” Norris said. “It’s happening all the time.”

Norris and Manning say the end goal has to do exclusively with the safety of the public their departments are sworn to serve and protect.

“That’s the great thing about the partnership,” Manning said. “When we have that cross-deputation agreement, our officer may be two counties away but at least the citizen still has the ability to have officer assistance until Lighthorse can arrive, and that’s something these partnerships offer.

“Something we like to emphasize is the simple fact that you are getting coverage. You’re getting protection your local tax dollars are paying for.”

“Ultimately, it’s about public safety,” Norris said. It’s not about my badge or your badge. It’s about the victim. We need to help them or we need to try to keep people from becoming a victim. That’s what we’re here for.”

Lighthorse Capt. Aaron Glenn, whose district Ardmore is in, said a recent example of Ardmore police helping Lighthorse involved seizure of a large quantity of drugs. “We got a call from one of our facilities and our officers were a long way away. Ardmore officers confiscated 75 pounds of marijuana,” Glenn said.

Mutual cooperation doesn’t always involve a dramatic crime. Sometimes it’s a bit more mundane, though you may not think so if you’re an airplane pilot attempting to land at one of Ardmore’s two airports and an animal has found its way onto the runway.

“Sometimes coyotes, hogs or deer get on the runway and you can’t land an airplane,” Norris explained.

The Chickasaw Nation has assisted in those situations. “They came to our airpark a little while back to help with some animal issues,” Norris said. “Their equipment was better than the equipment we had – night vision and suppressors, for instance. That was a big help.”

Though this particular aspect of service is not specifically under Lighthorse Police Department, it is illustrative of the level of cooperation both Norris and Manning agree is key to ensuring public safety.