Indian Country Law Enforcement Still Falling Short in the 2013 Budget


The budget battles of 2012 struck a blow to key provisions of the Tribal Law and Order Act and although the proposed budget contains increases for some important programs, funding would still remain far lower than what is needed to succeed. Given the current environment in Washington, getting full funding is unlikely, but as Indian country law enforcement professionals, it's up to us to convince our Congress members to pass the funding levels requested by the White House.

Department of Justice programs that fund law enforcement training and delinquency prevention activities like the COPS Tribal Resources grant program and the Tribal Youth Program were cut by a total of $15 million in 2012. The White House proposal outlines slight increases to some programs—still leaving them partially funded—at the cost of eliminating others, like the Missing and Exploited Children's Program or programs to educate at risk youth and detained juveniles. Other critical programs like grants to combat violence against women got severely cut. BIA funding focuses on capital improvements and personnel at the cost of eliminating programs for intelligence sharing among law enforcement agencies as well as IT infrastructure improvements.

Besides small funding increases for the Tribal Resources grant program and the Tribal Youth Program, the proposed budget contains significant increases for building and upgrading detention facilities, funding tribal courts and recruiting law enforcement personnel. While some new personnel would be required for new detention facilities, police personnel would help implement the same kind of “surge” program enacted last year on four high-crime tribal communities. This pilot program reduced violent crime by an average of 35 percent; another two reservations will be identified for a “surge.”

Is this good news or bad news for Indian country? Good news, in that any increase in funding would be wonderful. Tribal courts and police departments are generally desperately understaffed and adequate detention facilities are sorely needed in nearly every Native community in the country. Tribes who chose to use the provision for enhanced sentencing in the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 (TLOA) will require more infrastructure, long-term detention facilities, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges than most tribes currently support.

The bad news is that fixing some parts of the system doesn't mean the system is fixed. The emphasis on enforcement, processing and detention means that the system works efficiently to get lawbreakers off the street, but then what? One option tribes can pursue is looking at alternatives to detention. Tribal input to TLOA emphasized that Native communities want more alternatives to detention. This consensus arose in part because of the universally inadequate detention facilities, inadequate or lacking programming and the distance from family members, but also because most tribes lack appropriate re-entry programming.

Without adequate education, health care, rehabilitation or job training while in detention, or supporting re-entry upon return to the tribal community, a detained individual often drifts back to a life of crime when released from prison. The problem is especially acute for juveniles, who—because most communities lack adequate juvenile facilities—often get placed in facilities far from family support and who may be faced with retaliation from friends and relatives upon return. A typical Native juvenile re-entering the community after a year of detention finds himself alienated from a support system, behind in school; unemployed and unemployable; and without the skills to cope with the addiction, anger management or abuse issues that led to criminal behavior.

Lamar Associates' Juvenile Justice expert, Ray Perales says, “Alternatives to detention are appropriate for most tribes, because even with all the money going into detention, there's not going to be a detention facility in each community.” Mr. Perales has identified multiple points throughout the law enforcement process where an officer or a judge could recommend alternatives such as restitution, drug or alcohol treatment, community service or sentencing circles. Law enforcement officers can also engage in preventative programs like mentoring and education.

The White House budget is just a proposal, and if this year is like last, the final product may be completely different. Whatever happens with federal funding for law enforcement, we need to keep reminding Congress and the President that without full funding for intelligence sharing, infrastructure, education, staff training, rehabilitation and social services, we don't have the pieces we need to build a working justice system.

We in Indian country have become so conditioned to tell of our shortcomings, we sometimes ourselves overlook our successes, remember to celebrate success with the community and build on those successes using valuable community resources.

Regardless of what the outcome in Washington is, Lamar Associates stands ready to work with tribes to train incoming personnel and to develop alternatives to detention, particularly for juveniles. With experienced earned over a lifetime of working in Indian Country law enforcement, we can help plan and implement effective strategies that fill in the missing puzzle pieces by leveraging the resources available to a particular community.

Walter Lamar, Blackfeet/Wichita, is a former FBI Special Agent, Deputy Director of BIA Law Enforcement and currently President of Lamar Associates. Lamar Associates Indian Country Training Division offers culturally appropriate training for Indian Country law enforcement and service professionals in both on-site and online courses.