Washington DC –
A U.S. House-Senate conference committee has approved legislation that includes $50 million more for law enforcement in Indian Country next year than President Obama originally requested. The additional funds are included in a provision authored by Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and a member of the conference committee. Dorgan and a bipartisan group of Senators added the additional funds to the Department of Interior Appropriations bill. Final approval is expected by the House and Senate yet this week. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law by this week end.
Dorgan said the additional law enforcement funds represent “a commitment by this Congress, and this President to improve law enforcement and make Indian Country a safe and secure place to live and raise a family. The federal government has treaty and trust obligations to provide for public safety in Native American communities, obligations it has too often failed to meet.”
Obama’s original Fiscal Year 2010 budget request was already $34 million above what Congress appropriated last year.
Dorgan said the funds will pay for substantially more police and corrections officers to be hired in Indian Country, better training and other resources for tribal police, and improvements to tribal jails and other law enforcement facilities.
Dorgan has been a strong advocate for improved law enforcement efforts in Indian Country noting that chronic underfunding of Indian law enforcement programs and confusing, over-lapping law enforcement jurisdictions have made policing reservations so unreliable that criminal gangs and drug dealers have targeted them as safe havens.
Less than 3,000 Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and tribal police officers patrol over 56 million acres of Indian lands. Many do so without backup or adequate access to criminal history information. Authorities estimate at least 2,000 additional officers are urgently needed to adequately patrol Indian lands.
Dorgan’s provision adds $25 million for BIA public safety operations, which includes the hiring of police and correction officers, over the President’s Budget request. An additional $5 million will go to provide housing to police and corrections officers. The lack of adequate housing has proven to be a deterrent to recruiting and retaining new officers.
The bill provides an additional $20 million for construction, improvement and repairs to BIA and tribal jails. BIA and tribal jails often make the violent crime problem in Indian Country worse. They are often over-crowded, in disrepair or both. Many lack adequate staff, training and funding. As a result, judges are often forced to release offenders early. In some cases only the most violent offenders are incarcerated.