WASHINGTON DC –
The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Thursday, approved legislation written by Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND) to strengthen law enforcement and justice in Indian communities. The bill had strong bi-partisan support in the committee, which approved it on a voice vote.
The legislation is in response to violent crime that officials say have reached “epidemic” levels on some reservations due to chronic underfunding of law enforcement and justice programs, and a broken, divided system for policing Indian lands.
The bill, known as the Tribal Law and Order Act, is designed to boost law enforcement efforts by providing tools to tribal justice officials to fight crime in their own communities, improving coordination between law enforcement agencies, and increasing accountability standards.
“The federal government made a number of promises in formal treaties to Native Americans, and one of them was to provide for their safety. Clearly we are failing. The aim of this bill is to see that we honor and keep those promises,” Dorgan said.
Dorgan noted that the lack of law enforcement resources and confusing overlap of jurisdiction on Indian reservations has created a situation where reservation violence is so common that one in every three Indian women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime and where drug traffickers target tribal communities as safe havens.
“American Indians have a right to feel safe in their homes, and safe in their communities,” Dorgan said. “The federal government has statutory and treaty obligations to provide for reservation public safety. This legislation takes steps to ensure that we better meet those obligations and will help improve the sense of security and justice for tribal communities throughout the nation.”
Major provisions in the bill would do the following:
Encourage more aggressive prosecution of reservation crimes at the federal level. Between 2004 and 2007, the United States declined to prosecute 62 percent of Indian country criminal cases referred to federal prosecutors, including 72 percent of child sexual crimes, and 76.5 percent of adult rape cases.
Enhance the authority of tribal courts to sentence offenders for up to three years imprisonment. Current law limits tribal court sentencing authority to no more than one year for any single offense.
Expand programs that deputize tribal police to enforce federal laws, and provide tribal officers with direct access to national crime databases to arm them with vital criminal history information about suspects.
Invest more in existing programs to improve courts, jails, youth programs, and policing efforts in Indian Country.
Address the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault in Indian Country by enhancing training and coordination to aid the investigation and prosecution of crimes of sexual violence.