July 23, 2008

Legislation Gives Boost to Law & Order in Indian Country

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND) introduced bipartisan legislation, called the Tribal Law and Order Act, to fight staggering crime levels in Indian Country. Twelve of his colleagues have joined as co-sponsors of the Bill. The legislation 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.
“We are seeing crime levels on some Indian reservations reach epidemic proportions. Studies predict that more than one in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes, and two in five will be victims of physical abuse. Drug traffickers are targeting Indian Reservations as safe havens because of the lack of police presence and the disjointed system of justice that is in place,” said Dorgan, who has held five hearings on this issue.
“Clearly, we can’t solve this problem overnight, but this legislation is a big step in fighting violent crime on Indian reservations. American Indians deserve to feel safe in their homes, and safe in their communities.”
Dorgan’s legislation aims to improve law and order efforts by:
Enhancing coordination between the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and tribal communities about the investigation and prosecution of Indian country crimes.
Encouraging 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.
Enhancing the sentencing authority of tribal courts to punish offenders with up to three years imprisonment. Current law limits tribal court sentencing authority to no more than one year
Expanding programs that authorize tribal police to make arrests for all crimes committed on Indian lands, and that provide direct access to national crime databases to arm police with vital criminal history information about suspects.
Investing in existing programs meant to improve courts, jails, youth programs, and policing efforts in Indian Country.
Addressing 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.
“It is difficult to overstate the problems facing Indian Country on the matter of law and order,” said Dorgan. “We need more law enforcement, better facilities, improved coordination, and additional accountability at the state, federal and tribal levels. I will be pushing the Senate to take quick action on this vitally important piece of legislation.”
Joining Dorgan as co-sponsors to this legislation are Senators Murkowski, Biden, Domenici, Baucus, Bingaman, Lieberman, Kyl, Johnson, Smith, Cantwell, Thune, Tester.
“When the federal government undertakes the responsibility for the public safety of Indian people, the federal government must deliver on that commitment,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, vice chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. “Our government must exercise that commitment to reduce the unfortunate statistic that more than one in three Native women will be raped during her lifetime. This bill is tangible evidence of our commitment to make things right for those people who look to the federal government and their tribal governments to answer the call for help.”
“I am proud to be an original cosponsor of this important bill and I commend Senator Dorgan for his work on this legislation. We have seen criminals setting up in Indian Country to try to operate without consequences putting children and communities everywhere at risk. This bill serves not only the treaty and trust obligations we owe to Indian people, but also our moral obligation to protect the public safety and ensure safe and secure communities for all Americans,” said Johnson.
“Tribal leaders know that drugs, gangs and other serious criminal activities threaten to overwhelm their people. It is a very serious situation, and the bipartisan plan we’re offering would strengthen their hand to deal with the criminal elements that diminish the quality of life for the Indian people,” Domenici said.