Warm Springs tribal police applaud congressional passage of ‘Savanna’s Act’

WARM SPRINGS, Ore. (KTVZ) — In Warm Springs, 58-year-old Tina Spino has been missing since July.

Warm Springs Police Chief Bill Elliot explained Thursday the efforts that his team takes in cases like hers, and why they are pleased Congress has approved a measure that could help bring successful resolution to such cases.

“Anybody who goes missing on this reservation, and there’s a report filed with the police department, it will be investigated — I mean, we will always do the follow up,” Elliott told NewsChannel 21.

“It’s like no person left — it’s kind of the mantra we want to set up here,” Elliott said. “The family has a right, no matter what the outcome is. Whether the person just left because they wanted to or because of foul play, they still need to have some sort of resolution, and that’s what were here to provide. What this (legislation) will do is this will help us in our investigations and our ability to like track and find people.”

Now Chief Elliot hopes the U.S. House passage of Savanna’s Act will help the investigation of these cases.

The bill, which passed the Senate earlier this year, is designed to address what’s often called an epidemic of murdered and missing Native Americans, with a special focus on female victims.

Elliott said the legislation is helping shine a light on a critical issue.

“It’s important, because there’s finally some national recognition that there is a problem on Indian Country with people that go missing, and that there needs to be kind of a focused approach to it.”

Elliot continued, “You have focused approaches to everything else. Sometimes Indian Country is lost in that I don’t know the gray area because of the jurisdictional dynamics.”

The bill improves tribal access to some federal crime information databases, requires federal agencies to take recommendations from tribes on enhancing the safety of native women, and requires statistics on missing and murdered Native women and recommendations on how to improve data collection, to be included in an annual report to Congress.

Oregon’s two U.S. senators recently praised the move by the house.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said in a statement, “Murder rates for Native women are 10 times that of the national average,” 

The senator expressed hope that President Trump will give the bill the thumbs up.

“I strongly encourage the president to sign this bill into law, and will continue to stand up, speak out, and find legislative solutions to help address this tragic problem.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., also lauded the move by Congress, stating, “The appalling number of killings and abductions of Native women is deeply troubling and requires a federal response that matches the gravity of these horrible crimes.”

Joshua Capehart, a Warm Springs tribal detective sergeant with an FBI task force, said Thursday he also believes the legislation will be beneficial.

“It’s very important, any help we can get,” Capehart said. “I know this has been an issue for many, many years.”

Capehart said is also looking forward to the potential of more resources to address the issue.

“There’s a lot of people who are off-grid on reservations, people who prefer not to have contact unless necessary,” he said. “But at times, if they don’t have a voice, and there’s no one looking out for them or even know they exist then that’s a recipe for disaster.”