September 23, 2011

Hearing on the Tribal Law and Order Act One Year Later: Have We Improved Public Safety and Justice Throughout Indian Country?

Washington D.C. –
U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, held an oversight hearing Thursday, September 22, 2011 to examine the progress made during the first year since the enactment of the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA), which was signed into law on July 29, 2010. The TLOA is one of the most significant legislative efforts in years aimed at addressing grave crime statistics in Native communities. Nationwide, Indian reservations suffer from a violent crime rate of more than 2.5 times the national average, with some reservations facing a violent crime rate of up to 20 times the national average. Many of the deadlines to implement provisions under TLOA have now passed and the hearing examined their implementation.
“Our keiki— children—and those generations who follow rely on the decisions we make to ensure the safety and success of their communities in the future,” said Chairman Akaka. “We cannot allow these generations to live with the threat to their public safety as we do today in Native communities across the country. The Tribal Law and Order Act provides important new tools for Native communities to address threats to their public safety, but these tools are only effective if they are fully and properly implemented.”
The Committee heard testimony from federal officials representing the Department of the Interior, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Health and Human Services. Testimony was also provided by the recently-formed Indian Law and Order Commission, national Native organizations, tribal leaders, and tribal judges who described the progress of implementing TLOA in their communities and other law and order challenges not addressed by the legislation.
Addressing whether TLOA is working, Troy A. Eid, Chairman of the Indian Law and Order Commission, stated, “The answer is yes, but we’re just getting started.”
Eid emphasized the potential impact of TLOA, noting, “The stakes are high. To victims of violent crime in Indian Country, who depend on federal officials to perform what would otherwise be purely local policing and prosecution decisions, seemingly arcane issues such as case-declination reporting and accurate tribal crime data collection and reporting systems have profound real-world consequences.”
Larry Echo Hawk, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior, said, “One of the most basic needs throughout Indian Country is the need for additional officers on the street.” He stressed, “On many reservations there is no 24-hour police coverage. Police officers often patrol and respond alone to misdemeanor and felony calls. Our police officers are in great danger because back up is sometimes miles or hours away, if available at all.”
Echo Hawk reported that by increasing law enforcement staff and implementing intergovernmental partnerships, Office of Justice Services met, and in some cases exceeded, its goal of reducing criminal offenses by five percent on selected reservations.
Thomas J. Perrelli, Associate Attorney General at the Department of Justice (DOJ), underscored the scope of tribal law enforcement challenges, stating, “We have reservations in this country that are the size of states with less than ten police officers patrolling at any one time.”
Notwithstanding these tough realities, Perrelli noted, “Significant progress has been made in the less than fourteen months since Congress passed the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010.” Nevertheless, he stressed said that DOJ continues to bear “a deep responsibility for ensuring that Native Americans can live in safe communities in the months, years, and decades ahead.”
Tribal law enforcement responsibilities have been further complicated by recent court decisions, including Carcieri vs. Salazar. Echo Hawk pointed out that one of the reasons the Carcieri-fix legislation is a top priority of the administration and strongly supported by Secretary Salazar is because Carcieri “adds another layer of uncertainty in the way that the law applies.” The Carcieri decision has created additional ambiguity to what has already been described as a “jurisdictional maze.”
Contact: Jesse Broder Van Dyke
Contact Phone: (202) 224-7045