SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – American Indian gang activity has recently started moving from mainly graffiti and vandalism to violent crimes such as beatings, gang rapes, elder abuse, home invasions and drive-by shootings, according to a recent U.S. Department of Justice report.
Congress asked for the document as part of the appropriations process for the 2009 fiscal year. It outlines the various agencies in charge of law enforcement and prosecution in Indian country, where the crime rate is the highest per capita of any racial group.
For American Indian women, the violent crime rate is nearly 50 percent higher than for blacks, and nearly one-third of all American Indian victims of violence are 18 to 24 years old, the report said.
The report breaks little new ground but summarizes the status of Indian crime as Congress and the new administration debate how to bolster police work and prosecutions on reservations. It also notes that the FBI and federal prosecutors have started seeing “a proliferation of gang activities in Indian country.”
Among the reasons cited: media influences, the strained social environment on reservations and tribal members returning from prisons where they were involved in Native American prison gangs.
“Some tribes are ill-equipped to address this burgeoning crime problem,” the reports said.
The FBI is working with an expert on Native American gangs who has so far done 16 assessments on reservations, the findings of which are given to law enforcement officers and members of the community.
“It points out that the system is failing,” said U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. “Crime remains endemic on the reservations and I hope this report can be used in some congressional debates we’re having to address these crime problems we’re having on the reservations.”
He and U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota said one reservation that needs added law enforcement is the Standing Rock, which straddles the Dakotas.
A surge of BIA law enforcement officers last summer bumped staffing levels from 13 to 37 on the reservation that’s roughly the size of Connecticut. But the extra help is gone and the crime rate, at one point more than eight times the national average, is on the rise after dropping during the surge.
Dorgan, a Democrat, is chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and said he asked for the DOJ report to make the case for funding for added law enforcement officers – for all reservations.
“It’s fine to analyze the problem and, in fact, that’s important so we get the right solution. But this is a problem that has been analyzed and analyzed and analyzed, and the people on the Standing Rock reservation just want law enforcement out there,” he said.
President Barack Obama’s budget didn’t include additional funding for law enforcement on reservations.
But last month, Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli announced a DOJ plan to hold a series of regional meetings leading up to a national gathering with tribal leaders to seek input on what should be done.
Perrelli later told Dorgan’s committee that the agency is committed to making reservations safer.
“I want to express the department’s unequivocal commitment to the mission of fostering public safety in Indian country,” he said June 25.
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