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Access to National Crime Information Center is key to tracking tribal sex offenders

WASHINGTON - Tribes don't necessarily know when a sex offender is returning to or entering their communities anew.

And they won't know until tribal data can be submitted to the National Crime Information Center database and accessed there in a timely manner by tribal law enforcement officers. Another approach, authorized by Congress in the Violence Against Women Act of 2005, would be to create independent national tribal sex offender and orders-of-protection registries.

The national tribal registries of VAWA are intended in part to overcome the NCIC access problems some tribes have had, bypassing state administration and national requirements, according to the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women.

But the state-administered NCIC standards must still be reckoned with because the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, creating a national sex offender registry, mandates that either states or tribes must submit information on sex offenders to NCIC. That will require a coded number that is currently administered by states.

The FBI ''owns'' the NCIC, as it were, housing data there on offenders including Social Security numbers, license plate numbers, personal information, criminal histories and a litany of other items, according to Walter Lamar of Lamar Associates. Lamar, the Blackfeet former FBI agent, said that states administer the NCIC and manage access to it through originating agency identifier numbers, ORIs for short.

''There's a problem in some cases with tribes negotiating with the states. And if they don't have an ORI, they can't get access to the NCIC.''

Lamar said that some tribes already have ORI numbers to access the NCIC, but most do not. Still others have had an ORI, only to see it revoked because they failed an access audit, he said - meaning, in most cases, that they were not able to produce a paper trail to justify accessing the NCIC. Given the sensitivity of personal information in the NCIC, he said, accessing it is permissible only for valid purposes of law enforcement, and those purposes have to be provable to the satisfaction of state or federal auditors. Tribal departments, generally understaffed, are not always organized to maintain a paper trail validating NCIC access, Lamar said.

Without access to the NCIC, tribal law enforcement officers will not know - nor can they warn others - when a person entering reservation boundaries from another jurisdiction may be a ''habitual offender.'' But with access to the NCIC, they will have early warning because sex offenders, on pain of a no-questions-asked jail sentence, must notify law enforcement of their intended whereabouts, said Joe Sperber, president of Emerald Systems Inc., a security firm owned by the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin.

Similar early warnings of domestic violence perpetrators, men with court orders for protection out against them, would be possible through a civil and criminal orders-of-protection registry, absent from AWA but a key component of VAWA.

Speaking at a meeting in Washington of the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, Terri Henry of Clan Star Inc., a Native women leadership project in Cherokee, N.C., echoed other advocates in insisting that Native women need protection in different jurisdictions - serial offenders have a tendency to show up on different reservations, she explained.

They also show up on reservations from state jurisdictions. Distrust between state and tribal legal systems is still another obstacle to tribal acquisition of an ORI to access the NCIC, according to anti-violence advocates with several Native women's organizations.

''I would say there has been a long history of distrust,'' said Jolanda E. Ingram-Marshall, director of Niwhongwh xw E:na:wh Stop the Violence Coalition on Hoopa tribal lands in California. Tribal courts often are not staffed by law-trained judges, the protections of the accused and penalties of the convicted are different under the Indian Civil Rights Act than under state law, state authorities tend to be unfamiliar with tribes and tribal courts, and tribal courts lack jurisdiction over non-Indians. Those factors alone produce reluctance among state legal systems to trust tribal court orders, she said.

The distrust spills over into doubts about the validity of tribal court proceedings on sex crimes and domestic violence, and those doubts influence law enforcement priorities, said Jacqueline Agtuca, public policy consultant to Sacred Circle National Resource Center to End Domestic Violence Against Native Women in Rapid City, S.D. ''Basically, there are not specialized prosecution units on sex crimes and domestic violence'' in Indian country, she said. ''To prosecute the crimes, you need training.''

Without it, prosecution can become a burden on resources as accused offenders get off and become repeat offenders, their crimes increasing in frequency and severity, Agtuca said. ''It's kind of like a hamster cycle for law enforcement. ... And I guess you'd have to add that there is still a distrust for tribal courts, to put it politely.''

States don't always honor tribal court protection orders, she said. Because the majority of sex offenders and domestic abusers in Indian country are non-Indians, over whom tribal courts have no authority, giving full faith and credit to tribal protection orders is the best way for states to stop serial sex and domestic violence offenders in Indian country, she added.