US senators vow action to cut violence on Indian land 6-21-07

WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. senators, shocked by stories of growing violent crime on American Indian reservations, are considering forming a congressional commission to seek a solution.

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan called the increase in rapes, murders, gang shootings and other brazen crimes in recent years “unbelievable” and said it is Congress' responsibility to fix it.

“We must find a way. This must stop,” Dorgan said, as tribal leaders testified to the committee about their frustrations with the Bureau of Indian Affairs police and the Justice Department, which is responsible for major crimes on reservations.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the agency is “firmly committed to combating crime in Indian country.”

Tribal leaders said the problem of violent crime has grown worse with the rise of methamphetamine use, and is exacerbated by the lack of police and confusing law enforcement jurisdictions that remain from a century of patchwork legislative action by Congress.

This spring, Amnesty International reported that Indian women are more than twice as likely to be raped as other U.S. women. Suspects often go free because of unclear police jurisdictions and lack of adequate forensic capabilities on reservations, the report found.

Criminal jurisdiction is shared by federal, state and tribal authorities. Which agency responds depends on where the crime occurs and whether the person involved is a tribe member.

Once law enforcement agencies sort out jurisdiction, it might take more than an hour to get to the far corners of a rural reservation.

Some say the solution is to give tribes the ability to police all crimes on their land.

Justice Department officials say they are trying to find a way around the jurisdictional problems. For example, a program started in Colorado by U.S. Attorney Troy Eid deputizes state, local and tribal officers to enforce federal law on Indian reservations.