April 3, 2009

Legislation Would Strengthen Law & Order in Indian Country

U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, introduced major bi-partisan legislation Thursday to strengthen law enforcement and justice in Indian communities.
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.
Thirteen Senate colleagues from both parties joined Dorgan in offering the legislation.
The legislation, 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 increase in violence on some reservations is epidemic. Violence against women is growing and now one in three women on Indian reservations will be a victim of rape or sexual assault during their lifetime. That is intolerable and we have to stop it,” Dorgan said. “We cannot ignore the fact that drug traffickers are now targeting Indian Reservations as safe havens because of the lack of police presence and the disjointed system of justice that is in place.”
Dorgan consulted widely with Indian communities and tribal leaders in drafting the legislation and held eight hearings on this issue in the 110th Congress. On March 12 of this year, he held a hearing to hear tribal leaders outline their priorities, at which the need to strengthen law enforcement in Indian communities was prominently discussed.
“American Indians deserve to feel safe in their homes, and safe in their communities,” Dorgan said, “and the federal government has treaty and trust obligations that are supposed to see that they do. This legislation will not solve every problem over night, but it is an important effort to significantly change things for the better in many communities.”
Joining Dorgan as co-sponsors to this legislation are Committee Vice Chairman Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), and Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), John Kyl (R-AZ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Lisa Murkowski (R- AK), John Thune (R-SD), John Tester (D-MT), Mark Begich ((D-AK), and Tom Udall (D-NM).
The legislation seeks to strengthen law enforcement and justice in Indian communities by doing the following:
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, including 72 percent of child sexual crimes, and 75 percent of adult rape cases.
Enhancing the sentencing authority of tribal courts to punish offenders up to three years imprisonment. Current law limits tribal court sentencing authority to no more than one year for any single offense.
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.
S. 797, Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009