Udall Urges Public Safety Improvements, Additional Resources for Crime and Victim Services in Indian Country

Oct 25, 2017

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, urged improvements to public safety in Indian Country, calling for additional resources to fight crime and provide victim services to Native Americans. In a legislative hearing, Udall led the Indian Affairs Committee in reviewing three bills to promote public safety in Tribal communities:

S. 1870, Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victim Empowerment Act 2017, the “SURVIVE Act"
S. 1953, Reauthorization of the Tribal and Law Order Act of 2010
S. 1942, A bill to direct the Attorney General to review, revise and develop law enforcement and justice protocols appropriate to address missing and murdered Indians, “Savanna’s Act”

"For years, this committee has taken testimony from Tribes across Indian Country detailing critical needs for public safety and victims resources in Tribal communities,” Udall said. "Federal law enforcement agencies have also testified in support of additional funding for personnel to help keep Indian Country safe.” Udall called both S.1870 and S. 1953 a “step in the right direction” toward addressing the critical need for public safety improvements in Indian Country.

Udall said that Savanna’s Act, introduced by Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), would "promote more accurate data collection on missing persons in Indian country and enhance coordination between federal, state, and Tribal law enforcement agencies.”

"Just last month, Chairman Hoeven and I co-hosted a briefing by the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center to discuss the Department of Justice’s study on violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women and men,” Udall continued. "The briefing exposed alarming statistics and revealed the critical need to raise awareness and access to justice for Native women who suffer from the second-highest homicide rate in the U.S. and whose disappearances or murders are connected to crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex trafficking."

"Today’s bills put forward good ideas, but many Tribal public safety issues remain unaddressed,” Udall added. "One of those issues is that Tribes need the full authority to combat violent crimes, like sexual assault.” Udall noted that he has joined Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Lisa Murkowsk (R-Alaska) to introduce S. 1986, the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act.

The full text of Udall’s opening statement as prepared for delivery is below.

Thank you, Chairman Hoeven, for holding today’s hearing on three bills that promote improvements to public safety in Indian Country.

For years, this committee has heard testimony from Tribes across Indian Country detailing the critical need for public safety and victims resources in Native communities.

Federal law enforcement agencies have also testified in support of additional funding for personnel to help keep Indian Country safe.

Just last month, Chairman Hoeven and I co-hosted a briefing by the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center to discuss the Department of Justice’s study on violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women and men.

The briefing exposed alarming statistics and revealed the critical need to raise awareness and access to justice for Native women who suffer from the second-highest homicide rate in the U.S. and whose disappearances or murders are connected to crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex trafficking.

The bills we are considering here today address these very same issues: law enforcement resources, victim services, and public safety in Indian Country. Chairman Hoeven’s S. 1870 – the “SURVIVE Act” -- amends the Victims of Crime Act to authorize a five percent Tribal set aside for victim assistance programs.

This set aside will move Tribes to a more equal playing field with states on accessing federal victim assistance funds.

And S. 1953 – “TLOA Two” – builds on Tribal law enforcement and criminal justice reforms that were created by the Tribal Law and Order Act in 2010.

Both the chairman’s bills are a step in the right direction. I look forward to working on them with him and my committee colleagues.

Additionally, Senator Heitkamp’s bill, S. 1942 – “Savanna’s Act” – looks at the federal response to missing and murdered Indian women. It would promote more accurate data collection on missing persons in Indian country and enhance coordination between federal, state, and Tribal law enforcement agencies.

Many of the members of this committee supported the designation of May 5th as a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

I applaud Senator Heitkamp’s efforts to move beyond awareness and combat this vicious problem. And, I look forward to working with her on this important bill.

I also look forward to the continued focus of this committee on these important public safety and Native women’s issues.

Today’s bills put forward good ideas, but many Tribal public safety issues remain unaddressed.

One of those issues is that Tribes need the full authority to combat violent crimes, like sexual assault.

That’s why, last week, I joined Senator Franken and Senator Murkowski to introduce the Justice for Native Survivors of Sexual Violence Act, S. 1986.

The other major public safety topic we have yet to consider this year is implementation of the special jurisdiction restored to tribes in the Violence Against Women Act of 2013.

Over the last five years, Tribes have compiled a series of VAWA lessons-learned. They have made clear that certain steps need to be taken for the intent of VAWA 2013 to be fully realized in Tribal communities.

I’m working with several colleagues on this committee to review that feedback and put together legislation to fix these gaps that leave Tribal officers and Native youth vulnerable.

I will end by saying how encouraged I am by this committee’s bipartisan commitment to advancing Tribal public safety.

Mr. Chairman, thank you again for holding this hearing. And, thank you to our witnesses for joining us today.