Two county legislators want the federal government to pick up the costs of the Erie County Sheriff Department's extra policing of the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation during the political disputes between tribal factions.
Although reservation residents are voters, they do not pay taxes, and the burden of paying for around-the-clock patrols is falling on county taxpayers, say Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore, and Minority Leader Frederick J. Marshall, R-East Aurora.
Under a 201-year-old federal treaty with the Seneca Nation, the United States should be responsible for picking up police bills that total hundreds of thousands of dollars, they said.
"This situation is a longtime problem," said Swanick. "There is violence involved. It is not going to end in the short term."
He also said he has written to the Department of Indian Affairs, noting that county taxpayers must spend several thousand dollars to defend against a Seneca Nation lawsuit claiming the Senecas are the rightful owners of Grand Island.
"I find it hypocritical at best for the Seneca Nation to sue Erie County on one hand and demand continuous services on the other," said Swanick, whose district includes Grand Island and parts of Kenmore, the Town of Tonawanda and the City of Tonawanda. As the lawmakers announced their position at the steps of the Sheriff Department, Sheriff Higgins approached. He said the three killings on the reservation last Saturday brought out a heavy response from sheriff deputies and state police.
"Now we have two sheriff patrol cars at any one time around the clock," he said. Each patrol car has two officers.
The legislators said that the county has a responsibility to provide patrol but the situation on the reservation continues with emergencies frequently occurring.
"They created this problem themselves, and it is a political problem," Marshall said of the Senecas.
Don't deputies also respond to emergencies in the cities and towns, resulting in additional costs and prolonged duty? Higgins was asked.
The sheriff recalled that he had deputies on duty at the Spring of Life demonstrations in 1990 and at shootings in the city. He said the city was not charged.