Historic move for Klamath Tribes; hires first police chief

Portrait of tribal police officer dressed in uniform and hat

KLAMATH COUNTY, Ore.— The Klamath Tribes hired its first chief of police for the newly formed Public Safety Department.

The department has been in the works since 2011. In that year, legislators passed senate bill 412. That bill recognized tribal officers as state officers.

In 2019, council members spearheaded the creation of the public safety department, and hiring Vernon Alvarez was the last step.

Councilors say there’s a number of reasons why this move is important.

“We have has some instances of our own ordinance that are not being able to be enforced,” said Willa Powless, Tribal Council Member at Large. “We have to rely on outside local law enforcement or state or even federal law enforcement and sometimes we can’t get them here to do what we need them to do.” 

Chief Vernon has more than three decades of experience in law enforcement working for Native American Tribal governments.

He is now in charge of staffing the department. Powless says he’ll start small and over time, hire more people to expand the department.

Blakely McHugh is co-anchor of NBC5 News at Sunrise and spokesperson for In This Together, a suicide prevention initiative. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Blakely is a native of San Diego, CA. Blakely is excited to be in southern Oregon, a place that gets all the seasons and has similar temperatures to Arizona in the summer! When she’s not at work, you can find her relaxing at home watching TV and cuddling with her cat, Dallas. She also enjoys trying new places to eat and exploring the outdoors. Blakely loves meeting new people so if you see her out and about, say “hi!”
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