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Planning a Safer Future in Indian Country: Identifying Problems and Finding Solutions Through Collaboration

On January 11, 2010, then Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden issued a Memorandum declaring the improvement of public safety in tribal communities a top priority for the Department of Justice and outlining the responsibilities of the United States Attorneys’ offices to federally recognized tribes in their districts. He wrote: “The Department has a responsibility to build a successful and sustainable response to the scourge of violent crime on reservations. In partnership with tribes, our goal is to find and implement solutions to immediate and long-term public safety challenges confronting Indian Country.”

Emphasizing the importance of the “government-to-government” relationship that the United States has with federally recognized tribes, the Deputy Attorney General required that United States Attorneys in districts containing Indian Country consult annually with the tribes in their districts and with their law enforcement partners – tribal, federal, state, and local. United States Attorneys were also charged with taking the lead in implementing the Department’s Indian Country Initiative. Following the consultations, each United States Attorney was required to develop an operational plan to improve public safety for tribal communities within the borders of the federal district served. The Deputy Attorney General instructed that each district plan should be developed in light of the unique characteristics and challenges facing the individual tribal communities.

On April 9, 2010, the Director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, H. Marshall Jarrett, gave additional guidance regarding the core elements that U.S. Attorneys with Indian Country jurisdiction were to include in their operational plans. These elements include the following: communication, to include communication regarding declinations; investigations; victim advocacy; training; outreach; violence against women; and accountability. Director Jarrett also required that all United States Attorneys with Indian Country jurisdiction designate a Tribal Liaison for each federally recognized tribe in the district. Each United States Attorney with Indian Country jurisdiction has fulfilled the responsibility to appoint a Tribal Liaison, or Tribal Liaisons, and has reached out to the tribes in their districts to schedule and engage in tribal consultations to identify public safety issues and discuss possible solutions. An article discussing the critical role of a Tribal Liaison is also posted on this page.

Reflecting and responding to information garnered through the consultation process, operational plans for Indian Country provide a structure that allows each United States Attorney’s Office to address the public safety challenges brought to its attention by each tribe. The diverse histories, cultural experiences, geographic locations, size and political structure of the tribes require plans to be flexible. Moreover, the plans necessarily take into account the unique legal and jurisdictional frameworks in which law enforcement issues arise.

Individually, the operational plans will provide a blueprint for developing collaborative strategies to address public safety issues in tribal communities on a district by district basis. Collectively, the operational plans will help institutionalize the Department’s commitment to Indian Country; they will further its goal of building a more efficient, effective, and sustainable response to the public safety crisis facing Native Americans.

As Director Jarrett has emphasized, “Indian Country prosecutions are an important part of the Department’s mission and we must continually strive to improve our efforts in this area. Moreover, the federal government has a legal and moral obligation to American Indian and Alaska Native tribes pursuant to the federal Indian trust responsibility.”

The Indian Country Initiative requires clear communication, proactive collaboration, and continuing assessment of progress made – and progress needed – in order to successfully improve public safety in tribal communities. United States Attorneys throughout the country are committed to ensuring that the Operational Plans they have drafted, and are drafting, build the foundation for that success.

Updated December 8, 2014