Sharing crime data to better serve and protect

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There is very little systematic sharing of crime data by Indian tribes and national crime databases. Police departments, including tribal police departments, prefer to have databases that quickly supply prior arrests about recently arrested individuals. There are numerous stories about how suspects on the run are sometimes stopped and arrested for minor violations, like traffic tickets, and arrested for other more serious prior warrants found on national crime databases. Courts and prosecutors also like comprehensive crime databases to inform them about past behaviors of defendants and outstanding violations.

The sharing and collection of systematic crime data is considered a step in making policing more efficient and better informed. In recent years several national conferences addressed the issues of technology, training, and the problems of crime data collection. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice are looking for ways to improve crime data collection and reporting. The current government economic stimulus package includes a federal grant to survey and suggest improvements for crime data collection and reporting in Indian country.

There is very little systematic sharing of crime data by Indian tribes and national crime databases.




Crime statistics are often difficult to collect and report accurately, and the absence of training, funding and administrative disinterest in systematic data collection in Indian country tends to complicate the collection of reliable crime statistics.

There is a current effort by the BIA to create a computer-based system of collecting crime statistics, but generally those efforts are not systematic, and the data are not considered reliable even by BIA officials. The new monthly reservation reporting system may need more training for local workers and some incentives for tribal communities to participate in a BIA crime reporting system and national crime reporting.

Crime statistics for reservations in Public Law 280 states do not fare any better in collecting data about Indian reservation crime incidents. With some exceptions, many county sheriff departments do not collect data on whether a crime was committed on or off the reservation. County police departments tend to apply law systematically to all members of the county, but do not account for the different jurisdictions between tribal and county, and the data does not provide information about crimes committed on reservations.

While tribal police departments prefer modern electronic access to national databases, many tribal communities are not willing to share data with the county, BIA, or the FBI. Tribal governments that are unwilling to participate in national crime databases may be uncomfortable incriminating tribal members. Tribal communities often don’t trust the court and police systems and philosophies of justice in county, state and federal agencies. Many tribal communities don’t want their tribal members arrested and sent to jail or prison outside the community. Many tribal community members believe the non-Indian court and police departments are discriminatory and result in a much higher percentage of Indian persons in jail than are represented in the general population.

In California, the rate of state imprisonment for Indians is about eight times their representation in the population. In Saskatchewan, more than 60 percent of the provincial penitentiary prisoners are from First Nations communities.

Many tribal communities may be unwilling to share crime data while they do not have control over, or significant access to, the police departments and court that serve their communities.

Many tribal communities, if possible, would prefer to manage their own justice issues within their tradition and tribal government sovereignty. Many tribal communities may be unwilling to share crime data while they do not have control over, or significant access to, the police departments and court that serve their communities. Non-Indian police departments and courts have little understanding, and little interest, in the cultural backgrounds of tribal defendants. Until tribal communities and American police and justice personnel can freely and effectively accommodate the diverse interests and cultural understanding of tribal communities, tribal government will not participate, or participate only reluctantly, in national crime data sharing plans.

Tribal communities and associated police and court systems need additional funding, but funding by itself will not solve the cultural and jurisdictional chasm between tribal and non-tribal justice agencies. Both funding and greater mutual understanding and respect are needed to improve public safety for everyone.