U.S. Department of Justice

Before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee

June 3, 1998

Chairman Campbell, Vice Chairman Inouye, and Members of the Committee, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss a critical initiative regarding law enforcement in tribal communities. Violence and crime, especially in Indian country, are among the most pressing challenges facing our country at this time. The Department of Justice, in partnership with the Department of Interior, has designed an approach to serve as a significant first step in bolstering tribal law enforcement's capacity to meet these challenges.

The President, Secretary Babbitt, and I commend this Committee for holding this hearing to bring attention to the needs of tribal governments for increased resources for law enforcement to provide greater safety and stability in Indian communities. We urge you to support this important initiative.


The United States has a unique legal relationship with Indian tribal governments as set forth in the Constitution of the United States, treaties, statutes, executive orders, and court decisions. President Clinton recently affirmed this unique relationship in his May 14, 1998 Executive Order on Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments, which states that:

Since the formation of the Union, the United States has recognized Indian tribes as domestic dependent nations under its protection ... The United States continues to work with Indian tribes on a government-to-government basis to address issues concerning Indian tribal self-government, trust resources, and Indian tribal treaty and other rights.

Our basic responsibility to preserve public safety for the citizens of Indian country derives from the unique trust relationship between federal and tribal governments, as well as from specific statutes, such as the Major Crimes Act and the Indian Country Crimes Act, that provide for federal jurisdiction for serious felonies, such as homicides and sex offenses. Tribal governments and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) provide law enforcement for misdemeanors and assist the Department of Justice as first responders to felony crime.


Throughout most of the Nation, increased emphasis on crime over the last several years has brought about significant decreases in the rates of violent and juvenile crime. Yet, during the same period, we believe that many Indian citizens living on reservations have suffered an increased threat of violence. In too many tribal communities, law enforcement services lag behind their state and local counterparts. Tribal law enforcement agencies are generally understaffed and under-funded, lacking uniformed police, criminal investigators, and detention staff and facilities, as well as basic communications and intelligence gathering technology. Although advanced technology is becoming increasingly available to state, local, and federal jurisdictions, including unprecedented access to information on criminal history, child support obligations, and registered sex offenders, many tribal law enforcement agencies lack even rudimentary crime reporting hardware and software.

On August 25, 1997, President Clinton directed the Secretary of the Interior and me to work with tribal leaders to analyze law enforcement problems on Indian lands and suggest ways for improving public safety and criminal justice in Indian country. Beyond the increasing crime rates, the President cited the lack of permanent law enforcement officers, investigators, and detention facilities as evidence of the critical importance of addressing this problem immediately. To ensure the safety of those who reside in Native American communities, we urge you to fund this initiative.


Secretary Babbitt and I formed an Executive Committee for Indian Country Law Enforcement Improvements with tribal leaders and representatives from each of our Departments. We tasked the Executive Committee with providing options for law enforcement reform, including consideration of whether tribal law enforcement programs ought to be transferred from Interior to Justice. At the request of the Executive Committee, U.S. Attorneys in districts with Indian tribes led an extensive series of tribal consultations on Indian country law enforcement in September and October of 1997. Information obtained through the consultations depicts a disturbing discrepancy between public safety in Indian country and the rest of the United States.

Testimony by tribal leaders regarding higher rates of homicide and gang violence corroborates information gathered by the FBI, BIA, U.S. Attorneys, and tribal police. Of the 6002 Indian country cases opened by the FBI between 1994-97, 83% were either violent crimes or involved child physical or sexual abuse. According to the Indian Health Service, the homicide rate for Indians exceeds the rate for the general population by a ratio of at least 1.4 to 1. The homicide rate for some tribes, like the Navajo Nation, compares to the most violent jurisdictions in the country.

The lack of a system of graduated sanctions through tribal court, that stems from severely inadequate tribal justice support, directly contributes to the escalation of adult and juvenile criminal activity. In the U.S. Attorney-led consultations, tribal leaders expressed concern that the lack of adequate law enforcement resources feeds a perception by young people in Indian country that they can commit crimes with impunity. On September 17, 1997, the Department of Justice informed this Committee and the Committee on the Judiciary that violent crime attributable to juvenile offenders and Indian youth gangs is on the rise. As an indicator, the number of Indian youth in federal Bureau of Prisons custody has increased by 50% since 1994. As of May of this year, 61% (151) of the 248 youth in the custody of BOP are American Indian.

The Census Bureau reports that the median age of American Indians is 24.2 years compared with 32.9 years for other Americans; and, on many reservations, roughly half of the population is under 18 years of age. Because demographics may contribute to the problem of youth delinquency and violence, we must redouble our efforts to reverse the upward trend of juvenile crime.


Summarizing available information, the Executive Committee Report documents a compelling need for an infusion of resources in order to meet the federal obligation to preserve public safety for citizens in Indian country. The Executive Committee's report determined that:
1) the most pressing problem in fighting crime in Indian country is a lack of adequate resources for law enforcement, namely a severe shortage of uniformed law enforcement officers, criminal investigators, detention specialists; and,

2) the criminal justice system in Indian country is struggling in its efforts to address rising violent crime, gang violence, juvenile crime, and child abuse.

Secretary Babbitt and I endorsed the findings in the Executive Committee Report and recommended to the President an aggressive plan to implement Interior and Justice law enforcement enhancements, starting in fiscal year 1999. We also urged that, for now, primary responsibility for tribal law enforcement services remain with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as long as three conditions are met: (1) we establish a central line authority over all law enforcement functions under the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Law Enforcement Services; (2) we remove funds from Tribal Priority Allocations (TPA) that are identified for law enforcement purposes; and, (3) we obtain adequate base funding of law enforcement as a distinct line item within the Interior budget.


Today, federal law enforcement is the only safeguard against violent crime in many areas of Indian country. While both the Departments of Justice and Interior share some responsibility for law enforcement in Indian country, the Department of Justice has a distinct role in responding to many serious criminal offenses. First, 32 of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 56 field divisions have some degree of investigative jurisdiction in Indian country criminal matters. Second, by statute, the Department, through our U.S. Attorneys' Offices, is responsible for the prosecution of major crimes and crimes among Indians and non-Indians in most of Indian country. Third, the Department supports tribal self-government and is committed to enhancing the capacity of Indian tribes to confront crime and its disruptive impact in their communities.

The Department of Justice fiscal year 1999 budget request includes $157 million in new and redirected funds as part of a joint $182 million initiative with the Department of Interior to address the severe deficiencies in tribal law enforcement. The goal of this multi-year initiative is to raise the level of Indian country law enforcement to national standards in such areas as the number of officers per capita, training and equipment for tribal law enforcement officers, and the quality and availability of detention facilities. In fiscal year 1999, the Initiative will be funded primarily through anti-crime grants provided directly to Indian tribal governments through the Department of Justice. Ultimately, to sustain any meaningful improvements, funding enhancements will have to be institutionalized through permanent augmentations to tribal law enforcement budgets.

In light of the federal responsibility to investigate and prosecute major crimes, this Initiative will support 30 additional FBI agents and 31 victim/witness assistance positions in Indian country. Twenty-six (26) Assistant U.S. Attorneys will also be added to target violent crime, gang-related violence, and juvenile crime on Indian lands.

Within the Office of Justice Programs and Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office, we intend to target and set- aside discretionary funds for direct support to Indian tribes, including:

The Executive Committee Report notes consensus among tribal, BIA, and DOJ corrections specialists that the 73 small jails that exist in Indian country are severely inadequate and antiquated. Most Indian country jails are in such poor condition that they are out of compliance with contemporary building codes and professional jail standards. The $52 million that we have requested as part of the Law Enforcement Initiative will be used to fund grants to construct, modernize, and repair correctional facilities and jails on Indian lands. Of course, even with these new funds, we would not have enough resources to build a separate facility on every reservation. The Department will consult with tribal leaders for guidance about developing regional inter-tribal facilities for Indian country, wherever appropriate.

With respect to uniformed law enforcement officers, we are concerned that violent crime rates appear to be increasing while the number of officers per capita remains below the acceptable levels for rural communities, Indian or non-Indian. For example, the Navajo Nation, whose reservation spans some 16.2 million acres, informs us that it has 0.9 officers per 1,000 residents compared to 2.3 officers per 1,000 in comparably sized non-Indian communities. Tribal police are best situated to respond to and gather information about violence and criminal activity. The most effective federal initiatives to combat violence recognize the need to strengthen tribal law enforcement in Indian country. Unfortunately, while law enforcement resources have been increased and deployed effectively in many parts of the United States, BIA criminal justice resources actually have been reduced in Indian country. Thus, COPS grants to fund positions for tribal officers are an essential starting point in this Initiative. The Department of Justice is also exploring how to maximize the use of COPS funds to assure that the individuals hired can be adequately trained and equipped.

Another crucial aspect of the Department's appropriations request is the $10 million that we have requested to better enable Indian tribal courts, historically under-funded and under-staffed, to meet the demands of burgeoning case loads. In addition to increasing police officers, investigators, and detention officers, and building additional detention facilities, tribes will need to have tribal courts with the capacity to adjudicate resulting criminal cases and resolve disputes. We intend to use the requested $10 million for tribal courts to assist them in handling the increasing caseloads that reflect rising crime and population growth in Indian country.

The need to assure safety to citizens in Indian country demands a coordinated federal response. The fiscal year 1999 funding requested by the Departments of Interior and Justice will be a modest, but necessary, first step.


One of the most meaningful steps the Department of Justice can take to combat crime in Indian country is to help Indian tribes to strengthen their own justice systems. But, escalating violence and criminal activity in Indian country has outpaced the development of tribal law enforcement and justice systems. The complexity of the criminal justice problems in Indian country demands an immediate, innovative response by the federal government, including the Department of Justice.

Although the Presidential Initiative represents our comprehensive proposal to improve Indian country law enforcement, for the past several years, the Department of Justice has worked to improve the federal law enforcement response in Indian country and expand the availability of crime prevention and intervention funds through existing grant programs.

First, U.S. Attorneys in Indian country have been asked to designate Assistant U.S. Attorneys to serve as tribal liaisons and to work cooperatively with tribal police, investigators, prosecutors, and judges. Tribal liaisons have enhanced coordination in prosecutions on Indian lands and have generally improved communication and consultation with Indian tribes.

Second, the FBI created an Office of Indian Country Investigations (OICI) within its Violent Crime and Major Offenders Section in January 1997. In 1997, 30 FBI agents were reallocated to Indian country divisions most in need of augmented investigative resources to combat violent crime. The FBI has requested an additional 30 agents for Indian country for fiscal year 1999. The Office of Indian Country Investigations has also established specialized training programs to coordinate FBI Special Agents, BIA Criminal Investigators, and tribal law enforcement. Since March 1997, the OICI has facilitated training seminars for more than 500 law enforcement personnel who work in Indian country.

Third, as a partial solution, the Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) has awarded a number of grants to Indian tribes through hiring programs and other innovative partnerships since 1994. To date, 172 tribes have been approved for COPS funds totaling about $54 million. This includes 319 grants in 29 states, with 765 funded police officer positions. The COPS funded officers have provided needed support to law enforcement programs in tribal communities as an interim measure. However, even with the gains made possible through the COPS hiring programs, many tribal communities still face shortages in law enforcement personnel.

The Department has also tried to enhance the degree of multi-jurisdictional cooperation through the FBI's Safe Trails Task Force model. An adaptation of the FBI Safe Streets Task Force model, the Safe Trails Task Forces team the FBI with other federal, tribal, or state law enforcement agencies to employ their resources collectively to address violent crime problems in Indian country. Since 1994, the FBI has developed Safe Trails Task Forces in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada.

The Criminal Division's Indian Country Justice Initiative, developed in 1995, enlists cooperation among federal partners, the Laguna Pueblo, and Northern Cheyenne Indian tribe to try to ameliorate problems that span the criminal justice system, from prevention to post-release supervision, and improve coordination of federal, tribal, and local justice systems. Significantly, the Laguna Pueblo and Northern Cheyenne, adopting a comprehensive crime eradication and community development strategy, are the first Indian tribes to be designated official "Weed and Seed" sites.

Law enforcement improvements in Indian country must be combined with equally important prevention, suppression, and intervention programs in order to combat the expansion of violent crime. Offenders may be arrested, but tribes frequently lack detention facilities, probation officers, and substance-abuse treatment options, which creates a "revolving door" through tribal courts. Through the Office for Victims of Crime, Bureau of Justice Assistance, Drug Courts Program Office, and Violence Against Women Grants Office, we have increased the funding available for tribal court development and judicial training by more than $3 million. Strong tribal justice systems can respond rapidly with graduated sanctions and prevent the escalation of criminal activity into more vicious violent crime, which ultimately becomes the responsibility of the federal criminal justice system.


Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice Chair, and members of the Committee, I know that you are aware of the costs exacted by crime in Indian country and that the Committee wants to help tribes build stronger and safer tribal communities. Violence and crime interfere with the ability of Indian tribes to achieve meaningful self-governance and assure peace and stability in their communities.

This situation cannot go unaddressed. Both the Departments of Interior and Justice strongly believe that the magnitude of the problem in Indian country is so great, that we simply cannot delay our efforts into a later budget cycle.

Moreover, our treaty, trust, and statutory obligations require that we ensure an acceptable level of public safety in Indian country. The Department of Justice is committed to assisting Indian tribes to strengthen their own justice systems as an essential component of our national crime prevention and intervention strategy. We have worked to provide training, technical assistance, and funding to tribal justice institutions, including tribal law enforcement agencies and tribal courts. However, absent substantive systemic improvements to law enforcement in Indian country, violence may continue to overwhelm tribal justice systems at great costs in lives and property.

Working together on the Initiative that I have described today, the Department of Justice, BIA Law Enforcement, and tribal law enforcement can deliver effective criminal justice services in Indian country; but, we need adequate resources to address this problem. We hope that you will support this important initiative.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my statement. I would be glad to answer any questions that you may have.