Representative Ann Kirkpatrick, as part of her continuing efforts on behalf of Native American families, today helped push through Congress new measures that will enable tribal law enforcement to safeguard folks in Indian Country. The Tribal Law and Order Act, which Congresswoman Kirkpatrick co-sponsored, passed the House today as part of a broad initiative to help improve security on Indian lands.
Native American leaders have long been pushing for more measures to combat the growing crime problem in Indian Country. The Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal police are charged with protecting more than 56 million acres despite having less than 3,000 officers available for patrol. Violent crime in these areas is nearly twice the national average, and in Arizona and the Southwest in particular drug cartels and human smugglers are increasingly taking advantage of the situation.
The Tribal Law and Order Act will give tribal law enforcement new resources to help them crack down on illegal activities. It will offer them critical access to federal criminal databases, improve their coordination with other law enforcement agencies and provide new incentives to strengthen these relationships, and allow tribal courts to impose longer sentences. The bill will further require federal officers to turn over evidence to tribal authorities if they decide not to prosecute a crime, so that Native governments can decide for themselves whether to continue the investigation.
"For years, tribal law enforcement agencies across Greater Arizona have fought to protect their people without nearly enough support from the federal government," said Rep. Kirkpatrick. "The Tribal Law and Order Act will finally provide the authority, collaboration and additional tools that tribes have long been seeking to help them keep Indian Country safe."
This legislation will also hold the federal government to a tougher standard, driving it to live up to its responsibilities in Indian Country. It allows federal law enforcement to offer more assistance to the tribes in criminal investigations and establishes new accountability measures for federal agencies involved in investigating and prosecuting crimes on tribal lands, to ensure the rights of tribal communities are respected. At the same time, it establishes an Office of Indian Country Crime in the Department of Justice, finally giving the concerns of tribal law enforcement the recognition they deserve in Washington.
"This bill addresses some of the frustrations that many folks in Indian Country have felt for too long," said Rep. Kirkpatrick. "It is a major step forward for public safety on tribal lands, and I am proud to have helped Native American communities secure this victory."
The Tribal Law and Order Act was passed as a part of the Indian Arts and Crafts Amendments Act, which the Congresswoman also co-sponsored. That legislation would expand the ability of tribal authorities to prosecute sellers of misrepresented Indian-produced goods or products. The Senate has passed this package and it now awaits the President's approval.
Having grown up on tribal lands and representing the largest Native American population of any congressional district, Rep. Kirkpatrick has worked hard to raise awareness of the unique challenges that tribal communities face and is fighting to address the needs of their law enforcement. She introduced a bill to include Arizona tribes in a highly successful program aimed at stopping drug trafficking, which would allow them to work more closely with state and local law enforcement and bring new resources to the fight against the drug trade. In her first term in Congress, Rep. Kirkpatrick has also secured new resources to allow prosecution of crimes on tribal lands, including efforts that led to the hiring of more than 20 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys assigned to handle cases from tribal areas.