Merkley Celebrates Signing of Tribal Law and Order Act

Washington, DC
– Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley joined members of Congress and President Obama at the White House today to celebrate the signing of the Tribal Law and Order Act. This new law will take a comprehensive approach at addressing the public safety challenges that confront tribal communities and provide tribes with assistance to combat violence.

“Tribal communities across Oregon face daunting challenges, including rising violent crime rates and increased drug trafficking — yet they still do not have the necessary support from the federal government to police communities and prosecute criminals,” said Merkley. “This new law will help provide tribes with the necessary resources to combat crime locally and will place greater accountability on federal agencies to investigate and prosecute crimes occurring on reservation land.”

American Indians suffer higher violent crime rates, sometimes more than 10 times the national average, and many tribes suffer from high rates of unemployment and drug and alcohol abuse. Federal law limits the authority of tribes to punish Indian offenders to no more than one-year imprisonment and force reservation residents to rely on Federal officials to investigate and prosecute violent crimes on Indian lands. However, fewer than 3,000 Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal police patrol more than 56 million acres of Indian lands and Federal officials routinely decline to prosecute alleged violent crimes, making it hard for tribes to fight crime.

The Tribal Law and Order Act makes important changes that will help both the Executive Branch and Congress better address the public safety challenges that confront tribal communities.

Some major provisions of the legislation include:

Coordination with Federal Investigators and Prosecutors to require federal investigators and prosecutors to maintain data on Indian country cases which are closed or declined for prosecution in federal court, and to coordinate the use of evidence in tribal court prosecutions.

Increased Tribal Court sentencing authority from 1 to 3 years imprisonment where certain constitutional protections are met.

Federal Testimony: Streamlines the process by which Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Indian Health Service (IHS) officials can provide testimony about information gained in the scope of their duties to support a prosecution in tribal court.

Improves transparency in Public Safety spending by the BIA, and requires greater consultation on the part of the BIA to tribal communities on matters affecting public safety and justice.

Increased sexual assault training and standardized protocols for handling sex crimes, interviewing witnesses, and handling evidence of domestic and sexual violence crimes in Indian country

Authorizes Deputization of Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys to prosecute reservation crimes in Federal courts, and encourages Federal Courts to hold cases in Indian country

Increases Deputizations of Tribal and State Police to Enforce Federal Law: Enhances Special Law Enforcement Commission program to deputize officers to enforce federal laws on Indian lands

Authorizes the Drug Enforcement Administration to deputize tribal police to assist on reservation drug investigations

Increases recruitment and retention efforts for BIA and Tribal Police

Expands training opportunities for BIA and Tribal police to receive training at State police academies, and tribal, state, and local colleges – where Federal law enforcement training standards are met.

Authorizes Tribal Police Access to Criminal History Records. Many tribal police have no access to criminal history records.  The bill will remove some of the obstacles tribal police can face in getting access to criminal history databases that provide them with essential information when detaining or arresting a suspect.

Programmatic Reauthorizations:  The bill will reauthorize and improve existing programs designed to strengthen tribal courts, police departments, and corrections centers – as well as programs to prevent and treat alcohol and substance abuse, and improve opportunities for at-risk Indian youth.