Bill will help Indians fight crime on reservationsIn late June, the Senate passed a bill that could lower the crime rate on Indian reservations, some of which rank among the most dangerous places in America.
By: Grand Forks Herald, The Jamestown Sun
In late June, the Senate passed a bill that could lower the crime rate on Indian reservations, some of which rank among the most dangerous places in America.
But wait. That’s only part of the good news — and probably not the most important part. The most important part is that the bill passed the Senate unanimously.
Not only does that greatly boost the odds of the bill ultimately becoming law, but also it’s an amazingly good sign of bipartisanship on a very challenging issue.
Co-sponsored by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and John Thune, R-S.D., the Tribal Law and Order Act strengthens one of the weakest points of federal law: the conduct of law enforcement on Indian reservations.
The current situation is “shameful,” writes Paul Nitze, a Denver prosecutor with experience in tribal law.
“If you aren’t Native American, and you commit a crime on a reservation, tribal authorities have no jurisdiction to prosecute you. Tribal police officers can’t even arrest you to investigate the crime, no matter how much evidence they have.
“Even if the defendant is Native American, tribal courts can only prosecute misdemeanors carrying a maximum jail sentence of one year,” he writes.
“The U.S. Attorney’s office has to handle all felonies,” which often means “ferrying witnesses, evidence, police and the parties” hundreds of miles to federal courthouses.
That isn’t the only reason “the violent crime rate on the Spirit Lake Nation is seven times the national average, and violent crime on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is 5.5 times the national average,” as Dorgan has written.
But it’s part of the reason — a big part. “In 2008, the Bureau of Indian Affairs had nine officers patrolling the more than 2 million-acre Standing Rock Sioux reservation,” reports The Associated Press.
“That left one officer at a time to cover an area the size of Connecticut.”
Enter the Tribal Law and Order Act. Its major provisions include:
Boosting the tribal courts’maximum jail sentence from one year to three years.
Deputizing more tribal police officers to enforce federal law.
Pressing the Justice Department to prosecute more violent crimes on the reservations. Currently, the department declines to prosecute more than half of those crimes.
Letting U.S. magistrates hold trials in Indian country, and letting tribal prosecutors be appointed as special assistant U.S. attorneys to prosecute at those trials.
Boosting the maximum hiring age of BIA officers from 37 to 47. That’ll let more retired military personnel apply for the jobs.
Congratulations to Dorgan and Thune for their multiyear partnership on behalf of the Tribal Law and Order Act. Their cooperation across the aisle kept the bill alive and ultimately won unanimous passage by the Senate.
That’s a terrific accomplishment for which the Dakota senators deserve thanks.