Remarks as prepared for delivery
Chairman Gallego, Ranking Member Cook, and Members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for the opportunity to provide insight into the Department of Justice’s work in responding to the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. We appreciate your attention to this important issue, and your efforts to understand the work being done at an interagency level.
The heart of the Department of Justice’s work in Indian country, from law enforcement to prosecutions to policy development and program support, is aimed at addressing the unacceptably high rates of violent crime in Indian country. Missing persons and murder cases are different issues that require different law enforcement responses. Federal law enforcement investigates all suspected murders in Indian country, and U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country work tirelessly with our law enforcement partners to turn those investigations into prosecutable cases. In many ways, cases of missing individuals can be especially challenging for law enforcement in light of the myriad of reasons that someone may go missing. However, we recognize that the term “missing and murdered” goes beyond investigative procedures or legal definitions. “Missing and murdered” has become a call to action to address the crimes and public safety conditions that result in lost loved ones, including domestic violence, sexual assault, substance abuse, and inadequate law enforcement resources. As stated in President Trump’s Proclamation on Missing and Murdered American Indian and Alaska Natives Awareness Day, we must work together to correct these injustices. The Department is expanding our efforts to respond to this call to action.
We are working closely with our colleagues at the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to better understand how data on reports of missing or murdered persons are collected, how often those numbers are updated, and what protocols are required to resolve reported cases. We have begun a targeted effort to educate federal prosecutors and law enforcement, with an ultimate goal of establishing improved and more standardized protocols for data collection, reporting, and case management.
Ongoing coordination in Montana further illustrates the Department’s commitment to a collaborative approach to address the missing and murdered issue. On June 12 of this year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Montana Department of Justice, the FBI, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) co-sponsored a day-long Missing Persons Training for both law enforcement and the public. Our goal was to inform law enforcement and the public about the problem of missing indigenous persons, and the various missing persons databases and alerts.
In addition to honing our law enforcement response to reports of missing or murdered people, the Department is advancing our technology to better support law enforcement and families investigating these cases. Our technological advancements include expanded efforts to assist tribes interested in integrating AMBER Alert protocols. Our Office of Justice Programs (OJP) provides funding and technical assistance opportunities to integrate tribal AMBER Alert communication plans with state or regional plans, which helps us better align our resources with the needs expressed by tribal representatives. AMBER Alerts have become a critical tool in responding quickly to reports of missing persons.
Another one of our key systems is NIJ's National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). NamUs was developed to help identify unidentified remains, locate missing persons, and bring resolution to victims’ families. NamUs is a national, centralized, web-based information clearinghouse and resource center for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases. NamUs combines technology, forensic services, and investigative technical assistance to support and assist law enforcement officials, medical examiners and coroners, allied forensic professionals, and families from across the country.
NIJ and NamUs staff have launched a targeted outreach and training campaign to tribal law enforcement, leadership, and community members to ensure native communities are aware of the NamUs technology and technical assistance, which are available for free to all tribal nations.
Finally, the Department recently announced our fifth expansion of the Tribal Access Program (TAP), which provides federally-recognized tribes with the ability to access and exchange data with the national crime information databases for both criminal justice and non-criminal justice purposes. This access to information empowers tribal law enforcement to respond to reports of crime and missing persons in their communities more swiftly and more effectively. Access through TAP also enables tribes to coordinate more effectively with other law enforcement agencies involved in responding to crimes in native communities.
The high statistics on crime in Indian country motivate all of us who dedicate our professional lives to partnering with tribes to improve public safety in native communities. I want to underscore that it is never just about the numbers for us. Many of us working in support of native communities have relatives and friends in the places we strive to benefit, and we are all mindful of the deeply personal and too-often heartbreaking realities faced by individuals, by families, by neighbors and friends. Thank you again for the opportunity to discuss this serious issue and the Department of Justice’s activities in support of native communities, and I look forward to addressing questions you may have.