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Drugs and cold cases new focus of Justice Department

YAKAMA NATION, Wash. – U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced two major law enforcement initiatives at the Yakama Reservation on March 29 that will target the mitigation of methamphetamine use on reservations and review old homicide cases. Reservations throughout the country will be involved.

“I think it is important to get a first-hand view of the tribal justice system on the Yakama Reservation. The tribe is doing good work to preserve the heritage of this special place and protect those who call it home from the threats of violence and drug abuse, but there remain serious problems that require additional attention,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales visited White Swan High School on the Yakama Reservation and fielded questions from the students. He also met with tribal leaders in closed session. He was not specific about what was discussed in the closed session.

He did say he talked about the problems of a specific unnamed neighborhood, but the youth were optimistic about an outcome to resolve the issues.

“The students were so hopeful, it made me feel terrific. There are tremendous challenges.”

One initiative will be training sessions for tribal law enforcement. There will be 10 sessions in different parts of the country where tribal law enforcement can attend. The attorney general was not specific on how much funding there would be available for this training, but said he felt it was adequate.

It was not clear how far in the past the cold case review will occur, but it will be nationwide. The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office will review unsolved homicides.

The FBI will make available the services of both its Violent Crime Apprehension Program and the National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime.

At a gathering following the meeting with tribal leaders, Gonzales fielded questions from journalists.

“We have a responsibility, we are affected by this; we want to make sure people are brought to justice. We want to work with BIA and be of assistance and be sure they have capability as quickly as possible,” Gonzales said.

“We will look at cases one at a time; there may not be jurisdiction, and there may be questions of limitations. We will apply FBI expertise and may be able to bring [cases to] prosecution. We want to be helpful and bring a closure to some of these cases,” he said.

Training will be available for tribal law enforcement in the investigation of methamphetamine. The course will provide tribal law enforcement officers with training on how to conduct successful and safe investigations.

The Department of Justice noted that during the National Congress of American Indians’ winter session, meth use was on the increase in Indian country and the organization made it a top priority. Meth has increased on reservations drastically in the past 10 years.

“One of the issues relating to investigating and processing crimes … I don’t know if there is a solution. We want to make sure people can live in safe neighborhoods and we will continue working for it.

“In my view, within law enforcement they are committed to the same thing – make communities more safe.”

This was Gonzales’ first visit to an American Indian reservation. He said the Yakama people were very generous, proud and humble, and that they wanted help.

He did not rule out visits to other reservations.