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Tribal law enforcement agencies get COPS funds

WASHINGTON - In August, the Department of Justice awarded nearly $35.2 million in funds to tribal law enforcement agencies in 27 states to improve operations and infrastructure.

The funds were granted under the Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services or COPS. The program is part of the Clinton administration's initiative to add 100,000 community policing officers to the streets. Part of the program focuses on tribal governments and communities.

"These funds will help existing law enforcement agencies in these communities augment their efforts to prevent crime and protect their citizens," said Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., a state where a number of pueblos received funds.

"This program is targeted toward community policing, a strategy that uses partnerships between law enforcement officers and the people they serve to solve crimes."

Tribal communities across Indian country are in dire need of help, with understaffed police departments and outdated equipment. They many times rank lowest in public safety. Some tribal law enforcement agencies are charged with patrolling large rural areas, forcing many officers to venture out alone and far from back up.

"Native Americans are the victims of violent crime at more than twice the rate of all Americans, and providing adequate resources to tribes is an essential part of reducing crime in Indian country," said Attorney General Janet Reno.

From 1992 through 1996 the average annual rate of violent victimization among Indians 12 years and older was 124 per 1,000 residents, compared with 61 for African Americans, 49 for whites, and 29 for Asians, a Justice report shows. This disparity in the rates of violence affecting American Indians occurs across age groups, housing locations, income groups and sexes, it showed.

Justice also reports that American Indians are more likely than people of other races to experience violence at the hands of someone of a different race. Many of these violent crimes remain not only unsolved, but rarely investigated, because of a lack of law enforcement resources, officials say. For most Native Americans, the level of law enforcement services many Americans take for granted rarely exists on or near Indian lands.

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The FBI's Uniform Crime Report shows there are 2.9 police officers per 1,000 citizens in non-Indian communities, while on Indian reservations there are 1.3 officers per 1,000 citizens. Only 1,600 BIA and tribal uniformed officers are available to serve an estimated 1.4 million American Indians living on or near reservations.

Following consultations by Justice with tribes, tribal leaders and law enforcement officials unanimously identified inadequate funding as a primary cause of the increase in violent crime in Indian country.

In the $35.2 million award, the 27 states receiving funding include: Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

Included were funds for 10 different pueblos and the Ramah Chapter of Navajo.

Maine's American Indian communities are getting more than $1.3 million. The money will go to the Penobscot Indian Nation Warden Service and its police department and the Passamaquoddy warden and police services.

Eight Oklahoma tribes will share in $1.05 million to hire officers and purchase crime-fighting equipment. The Comanche Tribe, Citizen Potawatomi Nation and the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma each will be able to hire two officers. The Absentee-Shawnee Tribe will be able to hire one officer.

Each of the tribes as well as the Cherokee Nation Police Department, the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma, the Cheyenne-Arapahoe Tribe and the Choctaw Nation Law Enforcement received equipment grants.

More than $57,000 will help American Indian law enforcement efforts in Nebraska.