ADA — Local residents may have noticed several security vehicles driving around Pontotoc county bearing the name "Lighthorse." Affiliated with the Chickasaw Nation, these law-enforcement individuals just may possess more clout than what residents may have initially considered.

Jason O'Neal, chief of the Lighthorse Police Department, has been with the department since August 2004. His law enforcement resume includes four years with the Marine Corps Military Police in California as a police officer, K-9 handler and police supervisor. He also has six years with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs office of law enforcement services in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Oklahoma as a federal police officer and police supervisor.

"The primary function of a Lighthorse police officer is to provide professional law enforcement services on Indian Land within the Chickasaw Nation's boundaries," O'Neal said. "The secondary function is to provide assistance to federal, state, city and county law enforcement agencies."

With that all-inclusive definition of duties, the members of the LPD are able to make traffic stops and issue citations.

"When a Lighthorse officer issues a traffic citation outside of Indian Land, he is doing so as a city officer or county deputy, whichever is appropriate," O'Neal said. "Motorists pay fines as if they were ticketed by a city or county officer. Lighthorse Police Officers are currently deputized as tribal, federal, state, city and county officers."

The LPD can also make arrests and transport the offender to the appropriate facility, O'Neal noted.

According to O'Neal, the Chickasaw Nation assumed the programs, functions, services and activities of law enforcement from the Bureau of Indian Affairs by re-establishing the Lighthorse Police Department in October 2004. Since then, the department has increased immensely.

"The BIA police department consisted of four police officers and a supervisor responsible for a 13 county region," O'Neal said. "Initial plans for the LPD incorporated six police officers and a Chief of Police, increasing the law enforcement department by two police officers. Receiving overwhelming support from the tribe and communities, the LPD has since increased to a staff of 29 employees, including 22 sworn and seven civilian personnel broken down into a 24-hour emergency dispatch, patrol staff, supervisory staff, records department and criminal investigations."

There are also plans for departmental growth within the upcoming year.

"This Chickasaw Nation's jurisdictional territory includes more than 7,648 square miles of south-central Oklahoma and encompasses all or parts of 13 Oklahoma counties," O'Neal said. "The population for this area exceeds 280,000 people. In the U.S., on average there are 2.3 sworn law enforcement officers for every 1,000 inhabitants. If the national average were applied to the Chickasaw Nation territory, the LPD would staff 644 sworn law enforcement officers. The LPD's future plans include increased uniformed officer staff, increased criminal investigative staff and implementation of a narcotics investigator position to establish a multi-jurisdictional drug task force. Future plans also include the creation of a Special Reaction Team, procurement and implementation of a dual certified Explosives K-9 Unit, and facility expansion including a larger headquarters and substations. Programs such as D.A.R.E. and Gang Resistance Education and Training will be provided for schools in rural communities which do not have access to such through their local law enforcement. Establishment of programs such as Neighborhood Watch and Citizens and Patrol will be provided to communities requesting assistance."

According to O'Neal, the LPD currently has 22 sworn staff members consisting of administrative, uniformed and investigative team members.

According to O'Neal, the LPD currently has two dual-certified narcotic K-9 Units, which means that they're certified in both narcotics detection and patrol work, and they are implementing a narcotics investigator who will coordinate a mutli-jurisdictional drug task force.

The training to become a member of the LPD is much like that of a standard officer. Applicants are given a physical, written and drug test, along with a thorough background investigation.

"The applicant is required to attend and complete a 16 week basic police officer academy at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, NM," O'Neal said. "Graduates of the academy then complete a field training program with a senior officer before performing unaccompanied. Experienced federal, state, city or county officers may be given credit for attending a state or federal police academy."

O'Neal listed the credentials it takes to become a Lighthorse Officer.

"Officers must be a capable and competent driver with a good driving record, and must possess a valid state driver's license," he said. "They must be a high school graduate or have a GED and they must also have and maintain a clean record, with no convictions for felonies or qualifying misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence which would prohibit receipt or possession of firearms or ammunition. They must also be able to obtain First Responders CPR/First Aid Certification and maintain a Bureau of Indian Affairs commission."

According to O'Neal, the LPD is goverened by the constitutions of the Chickasaw Nation and the United States of America.

"The Lighthorse Police is a department within the executive branch of the Chickasaw Nation," he said. "The Lighthorse Police emulate federal authority and policy and are covered by the Federal Tort Claims Act."