Is Indian Reservation Crime High? No One Seems To Know


A lack of consistent data has meant crime on American Indian reservations is not well understood, says the Salt Lake Tribune. No more than a handful of tribal police agencies ever has been included in the annual FBI Uniform Crime Report. “You're in the dark, trying to make policy in the dark,” said Duane Champagne, a University of California Los Angeles sociology professor who studies Indian justice. “Without any crime data, it's very difficult to gauge just what's happening in Indian Country and just how to address issues.”

A new program is changing that. For the first time, the 2009 Crime Report gathered data from 86 tribal police departments. Numbers released in September are expected to guide tribes and policymakers in Washington, D.C., and ensure tribes are eligible for federal grants that could give them more resources to stem crime. “It's healthy that some attention is being paid to this problem,” said Larry EchoHawk, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior. A 2004 analysis of National Crime Victimization Survey data, based on phone interviews, found American Indians suffer violent crime at twice the rate of other Americans. Samson Cowboy, Navajo director of public safety, says, “The crime is not as high as what people say. If there's a major crime that happens, I think everyone gets on their high horse and says we have this [big crime problem].”

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