BLM plans law enforcement shakeup
The Bureau of Land Management revealed today it is contemplating an overhaul of its law enforcement program — from the location of its headquarters to whether rangers should wear visible flak jackets.
Deputy Director Brian Steed discussed the pending modifications in testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining.
“We’re quite active right now in reviewing all policies regarding our law enforcement,” Steed told Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R). An outspoken critic of BLM law enforcement, Lee has endorsed dissolving the agency’s police force and instead relying on local officers or FBI agents.
Steed provided few details about the potential reorganization — which comes as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is contemplating a broader overhaul of the entire department, as well as a potential relocation of BLM headquarters to a Western state.
Steed testified that BLM officials are evaluating whether the agency’s law enforcement “should be restructured to better fit organizational needs.”
“We absolutely are trying to increase our accountability to the American people by having the right personnel at the helms. We’re absolutely trying to change policy to make sure that we’re as accountable and responsive and as good at our job as possible,” Steed said at the hearing.
He noted that BLM has directed its officers to focus on “casework with direct ties to public lands,” including cross-border smuggling activities and the theft of mineral materials and historical objects.
Those efforts also include improving BLM’s relationships with local police agencies as well as the Western States Sheriffs Association.
He added: “If the secretary were here, he would tell you that this is one of his strong priorities, as well. He doesn’t want people to fear Department of Interior law enforcement. He wants people to see that they’re out there trying to do doing their jobs and manage resources.”
During the hearing, Lee and Utah state Rep. Mike Noel (R) — who unsuccessfully promoted himself to be nominated as BLM’s next director in the wake of the 2016 presidential election — repeatedly raised the specter of former Bureau of Land Management Special Agent Dan Love as well as a 2009 raid BLM conducted in Blanding, Utah, to address the theft of Native American artifacts.
Love, who is known for his role leading BLM’s failed attempt to seize Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s cattle in 2014 in Bunkerville, Nev., left the agency in 2017 after he was found to have violated federal ethics rules and to have mishandled criminal evidence (Greenwire, Sept. 18, 2017).
While Steed defended BLM’s law enforcement — which includes about 200 uniformed officers and 70 special agents — he said the agency is looking to punish what he called a handful of “bad actors.”
“We’re perusing active civil, criminal and administrative actions against some of those bad actors,” Steed said, without offering specifics or naming current or previous BLM employees.
But Noel, who previously worked for BLM, argued that BLM’s law enforcement should be disbanded entirely.
“The problem that I see is the concept of federalism,” Noel said. “It’s critical that we go back to the concept of the county sheriff.”
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the panel’s top Democrat, did not attend the hearing, which took place at the same time as a Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing for a new CIA director.
But in statement, Wyden said: “Oregon and American taxpayers expect their safety and the rule of law to be protected, and they expect to be paid for private activities conducted on their public lands. I will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the public lands agencies’ law enforcement, the agencies’ abilities to protect our public resources, and their royalty and fee collection for appropriately harvestable resources.”
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