American Indian tribes need additional federal funding to improve their law enforcement efforts across the state and country, tribal leaders told two U.S. senators during a special field hearing of the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee on Monday.
The committee hearing was held on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community reservation as part of a national series of hearings to delve into the issues of law enforcement on tribal lands. Committee chairman Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., attended the panel discussion at the tribe's community center.
Kyl, the assistant minority leader, is not a member of the 14-member Senate committee, but has been involved in American Indian-related issues during the course of his political career.
American Indian leaders told Dorgan and Kyl that tribes face an array of issues ranging from a lack of law enforcement officers to a lack of detention space.
Further complicating law enforcement issues are a myriad of federal, tribal and state laws that dictate which agencies are responsible for enforcing laws under changing circumstances. Law enforcement responsibilities shift among the three levels of government depending on whether crime victims and crime suspects are American Indians or non-American Indians and where crimes and arrests occur.
The lawmakers circulated a 15-page concept paper that they hope to develop into legislation addressing tribal justice systems in coming months.
"The main lesson from this is that there are huge resource needs in law enforcement on the Indian reservations, and the federal government needs to step up to the plate to provide more resource support," Kyl said after the hearing.
The United States has a unique trust responsibility to assist American Indians, Kyl said.
There are "huge gaps" between tribes' abilities to fund law enforcement activities and their law enforcement needs, he said. "On places like the Navajo or Hopi reservations that don't have gaming, their law enforcement requirements are significant and they're underfunded."
A September report by the U.S. Attorney's Office provided some insight into prosecution of federal crimes and civil litigation matters arising from reservations in Arizona. The report tallies crimes from July 1, 2006, through June 30, 2007.
During that period, the state's U.S. Attorney's Office personnel filed 326 cases, and successfully prosecuted more than 30 suspects for crimes related to methamphetamine distribution alone. Furthermore, they provided advocacy and support services to more than 2,000 victims of federal crimes, including 200 victims who were American Indians.
Salt River President Diane Enos told the senators that easy access to guns and improved transportation infrastructure have brought big-city crimes to the reservation east of Scottsdale.
There were 55 drive-by shootings on the reservation in 2006, 29 last year, and 12 drive-by shootings and one walk-up shooting so far this year, she said. On a single Sunday last month, there were six drive-by shootings in a single hour, though there were no fatal injuries.
She implored the senators to make drive-by shootings a federal crime.
U.S. Attorney of Arizona Diane Humetewa countered suggestions by some tribal leaders that federal authorities often fail to prosecute all but the most serious crimes committed by non-American Indians on reservations.
The standards used in determining whether to prosecute such cases are the same standards used in determining whether to pursue other cases, she said. Most often, those decisions are made based on the amount and quality of evidence available, said Humetewa, a member of Arizona's Hopi tribe.
She noted that criminal jurisdiction on reservations can be confusing. "It's important to understand that for every crime committed on Indian Country, there is a court of justice," she said.