Representative Ann Kirkpatrick announced that new measures are now in place to help Native American law enforcement preserve the safety of tribal communities. The Tribal Law and Order Act, which Rep. Kirkpatrick helped to push through Congress, was signed into law yesterday as part of a broad initiative to help strengthen security in Indian Country. The law will give tribes new resources to keep Indian Country safe and allows them to better collaborate with state and federal law enforcement communities.
Native American leaders have long been fighting for the support they need to turn the tide against the growing crime rates on tribal lands. While tribal law enforcement agencies do a great job with the resources they have, only 3,000 Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal police enforcement officers patrol the 56 million acres of tribal territory across our Nation, and the lack of assets available to them has delayed response times, made it difficult to thoroughly investigate and punish some crimes, and contributed to record levels of violence. With Mexican drug cartels in Arizona and the Southwest taking advantage of the situation by opening drug and human trafficking lanes in Indian Country, local authorities see their police forces stretched even thinner.
The Tribal Law and Order Act will help Native American communities address these problems by improving information sharing, providing new resources and powers for investigating and prosecuting crimes, and strengthening federal commitments to tribal law enforcement.
"Since coming to Congress, I have been working closely with Native American law enforcement to ensure that the federal government fully cooperates with their work to protect tribal lands," said Rep. Kirkpatrick. "I am proud to see our efforts pay off. It is absolutely vital that folks in Indian Country feel safe in their homes and know that law enforcement officers have what they need to protect their children. This new law will help to crack down on crime, ease security concerns, and make our communities a safer place to live."
The Tribal Law and Order Act provides resources necessary to strengthen tribal control over their own security situation. It will finally open up federal criminal databases to tribal authorities, allowing access to information that has long been available to other law enforcement officers across the country. Additionally, it will provide new incentives to strengthen relationships among different levels of law enforcement, improve coordination among different agencies, and allow tribal courts to impose longer sentences. Furthermore, the bill will require federal officers to turn over evidence to tribes if they decide not to prosecute a crime, giving Native governments the opportunity to decide for themselves whether to continue the investigation.
This legislation will also raise standards for the federal government's actions on behalf of Indian Country by finally establishing an Office of Indian Country Crime in the Department of Justice. Federal law enforcement can now offer more assistance to tribes in criminal investigations, and their activities on tribal lands must meet specific new requirements to ensure they do not infringe on the sovereignty of Native governments.
"It is unacceptable that Native American law enforcement has gone without these critical measures for so many years," said Rep. Kirkpatrick. "The time for these changes is long overdue. Signing this bill into law yesterday marked an important step toward ensuring that tribal law enforcement receives the attention it deserves in Washington."
The Tribal Law and Order Act was passed and signed into law as a part of H.R. 725, the Indian Arts and Crafts Amendments Act, which the Congresswoman also co-sponsored. This law expands the ability of tribal authorities to prosecute sellers of misrepresented Indian-produced goods or products. The final package passed through Congress last week.
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 to hire more than 20 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys assigned to handle cases from tribal areas.