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S.D. attorney spars with feds over Indian crime

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By Carson Walker -- Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota's top law enforcement officer released a report July 14 disputing two earlier federal studies on crime among American Indians, calling them ''flawed.''

But the author of one of the Bureau of Justice Statistics publications countered that the South Dakota document is the one that's misguided and includes nothing new.

At issue are ''American Indian Crime'' reports released in 1999 and 2004 by the BJS, a department of the U.S. Department of Justice, for 1992 - 2002.

Among the conclusions is that Indians are more likely than people of other races to be victims of a violent crime by a non-Indian.

''When you talk about violent crime, violent crime nationally is intra-racial. That means white people kill white people, blacks kill blacks, Asians kill Asians,'' said Attorney General Larry Long.

''The only suggestion by anybody that Indians were different was this study by BJS, which is why it came as such a shock to everyone.''

Long is a former prosecutor in Bennett County, which borders the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations. He said he commissioned the study because the BJS numbers are being widely quoted in litigation, lawmaking sessions and by advocacy groups calling for change.

He said it appears federal cases were not a part of the BJS reports. Long said his concern is that if the numbers are wrong, the resulting decisions, policies and rules could be wrong.

''If we're going to talk about fixing the problem, we ought to have accurate information to begin the discussion,'' Long said.

Steven W. Perry, the BJS statistician who wrote the 2004 report, said federal numbers from numerous agencies were very much a part of the studies.

''To make a glaring overgeneralized statement like that is completely false. It may not have all of it. But to say that we ignored all the federal data, anyone who read the report would see that at one point it's all federal data.''

The real problem is there's no one reporting method nor one data source, but a multitude of tribal, state and federal agencies responsible for law enforcement on reservations, he said.

Perry said he was shocked at Long's report because he and others outlined the limitations of the study to the South Dakota researchers. It does not include a picture of the situation locally but rather a national snapshot, Perry said.

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''We by no means said that this is what's happening at the local level,'' he said.

''We put out the report to convey the complexities - tribes having their own caseloads and data sets, that the reservation is this hodgepodge or jurisdictional maze.''

He complimented Long for addressing the problem of American Indian crime, but said the attorney general's report doesn't include anything the BJS didn't provide to the researchers.

''They're saying something that's been stated time and time again,'' Perry said.

But the limitations are not in the report and the study has become an oft-quoted complete resource, Long said.

''The fact of the matter is his report was issued and either implicitly or however it was allowed to be touted as the world view, or the national situation with reference to Indians,'' he said.

''If there are a whole bunch of limitations on his data, why would he allow his data to be utilized in such a fashion?''

Long's report, ''Jurisdictional Variation in American Indian Criminal Justice: An Argument for Stronger Understanding and Better Methods,'' will be published in the fall issue of the American Indian Research and Culture Journal, he said.

It was co-authored by Richard Braunstein and William Anderson of the University of South Dakota political science department and Brenda Manning with the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said he would use the study to work with tribes, the BIA and other senators to ease crime on many reservations.

''In order to combat the serious problem of crime in Indian country, we must have the best data available,'' he said.

The Senate passed a Thune amendment that would boost Indian law enforcement efforts by $1 billion of July 16. The amendment - which will be offered to a bill designed to combat the worldwide AIDS epidemic - would provide money for detention facility construction, tribal police, tribal courts and crime investigation and prosecution in Indian country.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this story.