Spotlight on Indian Country

DOJ Indian Country Law Enforcement Initiative

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) convened a listening session with tribal leaders from around the country on October 28–29, 2009, during which tribal leaders shared their concerns about high rates of violent crime threatening public safety in Indian Country. As a result of this session, Attorney General Holder announced an initiative on January 11, 2010, to improve public safety for the 564 federally recognized Indian tribes in the United States. In addition, he announced the DOJ's FY 2010 appropriation of an additional $6 million for Indian Country prosecution efforts.

As part of this new initiative, the Deputy Attorney General sent a memorandum to all United States Attorneys (USAOs) with Indian Country in their districts identifying "the goal of combating violence against women and children in tribal communities" as a top priority. The memorandum directs the USAOs, in collaboration with local law enforcement, to consult annually with the tribes in their districts and to develop operational plans addressing public safety in Indian Country.

Districts with non-Public Law 280 and partial Public Law 280 tribes are encouraged to include several core elements in their operational plans, including arrangements to—

  • Develop and foster an ongoing government-to-government relationship with tribes.
  • Improve communications with each tribe.
  • Initiate cross-deputization agreements, special law enforcement commission training, and a tribal Special Assistant U.S. Attorney program.
  • Establish training for USAO staff and relevant criminal justice personnel on Indian Country criminal jurisdiction and legal issues.

The memorandum directs that reports of sexual assault or domestic violence crimes "should be investigated wherever credible evidence of violations of federal law exists, and prosecuted when the Principles of Federal Prosecution are met." This responsibility is clearly extended to misdemeanor assaults committed by non-Indian offenders against American Indian women on federally recognized reservations. The memorandum concludes that "this directive creates a structure through which U.S. Attorneys will develop targeted plans to help make tribal communities in their districts safer, and to turn back the unacceptable tide of domestic and sexual violence there."

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