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Report Says Concern for Safety Defines Life for Many Indians

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TORONTO, Ontario -- Violent crime hits American Indians more often than any other group, says a report from the International Association of Chiefs of Police that offers 52 recommendations for dealing with the problem.

Published at the end of the recent IACP annual summit held this year in Toronto, the report has been nearly a year in the making. Its release will kick off lobbying to increase federal funding for tribal law enforcement, improve support for crime victims and spur greater cooperation with other governments.

Entitled "Improving Safety in Indian Country," the report says that high crime rates against Indians persist even though they are falling in the rest of the country. "The residents of tribal communities not only experience lower levels of safety than non-residents, but by comparison, they are growing even less safe," it says.

About one in five Indian youths between 16 and 24 are victims of a violent crime, it said. Overall, 70 percent of the attacks come from non-Indians. American Indians are more likely than any other group to be seriously hurt in an incident. "Concerns about safety are often a defining characteristic of their lives," said the report.

Work on the recommendations started in February at a two-day summit near Washington, D. C., said Ted Quasula, former director of the BIA Office of Law Enforcement Services and a member of the meeting's advisory board. The summit, funded by a Department of Justice grant, brought together about 135 professionals from tribal police departments, courts education and social services. "We thought the meeting was a good way to educate the new administration," said Quasula.

The job of ushering the first draft through months of revision fell to Ed Reina, chief of the Yavapai-Prescott Tribal Police Department and chair of the IACP Indian Country Law Enforcement Section. "We sent it around about three times," he said.

The final draft, adopted by the IACP in Toronto at the end of October, breaks new ground in calling for increased service for the victims of crime. "Many services help remove victims from harm's way and prevent re-victimization," it says. "When individuals are victimized, there is a much higher probability that they will subsequently suffer a harsher form of victimization."

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The report also urges crime prevention efforts, such as education programs to combat "racial intolerance and violence."

The majority of the recommendations address problems of over-lapping jurisdictions, under-funding for tribal police and judicial systems, and gaps in training for Indian law officers.

The complex question of jurisdiction in Indian Country creates a "void" says the report "that leaves victims of crime unprotected and perpetrators undeterred."

It is not uncommon for non-Indian offenders to commit crimes in Indian country knowing that there will be little, if any, retribution for their crimes."

The lack of resources has been a constant problem, even though it improved somewhat in the last decade. The report calls for a permanent increase in funding and more direct funding to tribal governments. It also urges tribes to be more aggressive in seeking support and to think strategically in developing programs. "It is difficult to raise ongoing financial support for programs that lack direction, have limited prospects for success or are entirely unproven."

Training for Indian law officers has improved markedly in the last decade, said the report, but gaps exist in areas such as domestic violence, child sexual abuse and domestic terrorism. The report also called for training "specific to Indian country and to the tribe," for instance in improving officers' "cultural competence."

The last of its 52 points may be the most basic, however; "Indian families must re-engage in the process of crime prevention.

Quasula worried that the recommendations might be overshadowed by the national worry about terror attacks, but he warned that the Indian Country crime problem wasn't going to end soon. Part of the problem he said, could be attributed to the high proportion of youths in the Indian population. "If you look at the growth in the groups around the age of 8, 9 and 10," he said, "a lot of the Indian population for years is going to be in the age group where they have problems."