Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Feds reduce law-enforcement spending on Indian reservations even as violent-crime rates skyrocket

The federal government is scaling back its law enforcement in Indian country by reducing police, cutting funding and investigating fewer violent felonies, even as rates of murder and rape on reservations have increased to more than 20 times the national average, according to Department of Justice data. The data "underscores a reputation for chronic lawlessness on Indian reservations, where unchecked crime has for years perplexed federal agencies, which are largely responsible for public safety on Indian lands," reports Timothy Williams of The New York Times. (NYT Photo by Matthew Staver: Indian reservation police officers at high school basketball game)

The Obama administration has cut funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and reservation law enforcement, and the Justice Department has opened fewer investigations of violent felonies on Indian lands while increasing investigations in the rest of the U.S, Williams reports. From 2000 to 2010, crime on some reservation surged by as much as 50 percent, but investigations by U.S. attorneys decreased 3 percent. But in the rest of the nation, while crime rates fell by 13 percent, federal prosecutions increased by 29 percent.

Reservation police forces are vastly understaffed. In 2000, there were nearly 3,500 full-time officers; there were almost 500 fewer in 2010. Often, very few officers are employed to patrol huge landscapes that would require many more police. There are 30 officers on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona to patrol an area larger than Delaware, and on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, there are just 49 officers to canvass 3,470 square miles. The federal government has given reservations more authority to prosecute crime, but has cut tribal court funding at the same time. Courts often lack money to pay per diems for jury duty, and tribal officials say "Federal funding barely covers the salaries of court clerks, much less judges," Williams reports. (Read more)

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