Despite a mandate from Congress, the Justice Department and its related agencies have failed to make the public safety concerns of Native Americans a priority, according to the department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
Since the passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, funding for tribal justice has actually declined, the OIG said in a scathing review of enforcement practices in the nation’s 310 reservations released this month.
“The Department has not prioritized assistance to Indian Country at the level consistent with its public statements or annual reports to Congress,” said the review, noting that there were also serious shortcomings in the training of FBI agents assigned to reservations, in statistics-gathering, and at the level of federal oversight.
In a response to the charges (added as an appendix to the review), the Office of the Deputy Attorney General maintained that many of the OIG’s recommendations were resolved or are in the process of being resolved, and disputed others. But the OIG responded in turn that some of the responses, particularly regarding better coordination and oversight remained unsatisfactory.
The 2010 Act was passed in response to growing concerns that crime and substance abuse are rampant across Indian Country—the official term for the vast tribal areas spread across 36 states.
According to 2002 statistics cited by the review, American Indians experienced a per capita rate of violence more than twice that experienced by other racial and ethnic groups, and are twice as likely to fall victim to rape or sexual assault. The public safety challenges are compounded by scarce law enforcement resources and geographic isolation.
The Navajo Police Department, for example, has just 393 sworn officers to cover an area of 22,000 square miles and a population of 192,000.
America’s 567 federally recognized tribes have sovereign authority over their territories, but the rules governing tribal justice are complex and—for many Native American leaders—frustrating. Reservation law enforcement agents are limited to misdemeanor arrests of Indians who commit crimes on Indian territory, but most have no authority over crimes committed by non-Indians on reservation lands.
They have joint jurisdiction with federal and state authorities, but have “little punitive sentencing authority for even the most violent offenders,” noted the OIG review.
The 2010 Act was an attempt to resolve many of those concerns and pour additional resources in Indian Country prosecutions offices. But after an initial pump-up of funding, both total funding and number of assistant us attorneys operating on Indian lands have declined by 40 percent, the review found.
Despite the spiraling incidence of alcohol and drug abuse, exacerbated by the opioid epidemic, the Drug Enforcement Administration never received specific funding for work on reservations, said the review.
The full report and recommendations, as well as the responses and counter-responses are available here.