Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, at the opening of an oversight hearing titled “Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) – Five Years Later,” posed the question: “How have the justice systems in Indian country improved?”
The TLOA upon its implementation was “charged to the federal government to provide tribal governments with the tools they need to better protect their communities, to live up to our treaty and trust obligations and to be more accountable for our efforts to enhance public safety in Indian country,” Tracy Toulou, director of the Office of Tribal Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice, said on December 2.
Toulou was testifying before SCIA when she said that. Her testimony was accompanied by that of Mr. Larry Roberts, principal deputy assistant secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior; Mirtha Beadle, director of the Office of Tribal Affairs and Policy within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and the Honorable Glen Gobin, chairman of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington.
Toulou stated, “The [DOJ] views tribes as partners in ensuring public safety in Indian country and is committed to maximizing tribal control over tribal affairs. It is our belief, informed by experience, that challenges faced by tribes are generally best met by tribal solutions. In support of this commitment and the government-to-government nature of our relationships with tribes, the department has worked to fulfill its responsibilities under TLOA in a way that will ultimately empower tribes to operate with more autonomy.”
It is important that tribes have access to law enforcement databases and, according to Toulou, the department must ensure this access. However, tribes have hit roadblocks. In order to fully access the databases, they are too often caught up in red tape. Toulou went on to say the DOJ has established two programs to improve access for tribes.
The first is the Justice Telecommunications System (JUST) program launched in 2010. It provides participating tribes with access to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Twenty-three tribes currently use the program.
Secondly, the DOJ’s Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information (TAP), a more comprehensive access program based on feedback from the JUST program, according to Toulou, was announced in August. The program is designed to provide tribes with access to CJIS services including: Next Generation Identification (NGI); National Data Exchange (N-DEx); Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal (LEEP); National Crime Information Center (NCIC); National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS); and Nlets, the International Justice and Public Safety Network.
The TAP program is being used by 10 tribal participants who are providing feedback on the training, technical assistance, equipment and maintenance of the program. “Early feedback has been very positive and it is our intention to eventually make this program available to any interested tribe,” Toulou said.
Toulou went on to state that the DOJ has increased its efforts to support tribal governments that are exercising expanded sentencing authority while working to improve high-quality training opportunities. The DOJ believes training is “a necessary element to bolstering tribal autonomy.” In 2010 the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys launched the National Indian Country Training Initiative to assist in making sure training and support is available to those who need it to prosecute in Indian country. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is also working on a training course that will include instruction in forensic evidence collection and preparatory instruction on investigations common in Indian country, such as domestic violence, child abuse, violent crimes, human trafficking and drug trafficking. The course will be held four times a year with 24 students in each session and will jointly be taught by the FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs “mentors.”
Toulou explained to the SCIA with the DOJ’s efforts to cross-deputize tribal law enforcement officials as its most meaningful display of its commitment to a government-to-government relationship.
“Our work to enhance public safety has been and continues to be, shaped by our commitment to empower tribal governments; to improve coordination and collaboration at the federal, tribal, state and local levels; and to be appropriately accountable for the work we do.” Toulou said.
On November 19, the DOJ announced the opening of grant solicitation for comprehensive funding for Native communities to support public safety, victim services and crime prevention improvements through the department’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation.