Arizona Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Committee releases final report

(Image: Arizona Legislature Indigenous Peoples Caucus)

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Dozens of policy recommendations to address epidemic

News Release

Arizona Legislature Indigenous Peoples Caucus

Arizona's Study Committee on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has posted its final report, including dozens of specific legislative, law enforcement and other policy recommendations to address the ongoing crisis. After nearly a year of in-depth research, which was slowed by COVID-19 and some enforcement agencies choosing not to participate, Arizona got its clearest picture to date of the increasing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

"Our work will not end with this report; this is only the beginning," said Chairwoman Rep. Jennifer Jermaine, D-Chandler. "The findings and data in this report will drive administrative and legislative action needed to help prevent future abductions and murders of Indigenous women and girls in Arizona. We dedicate this work and this report to the lives lost and to the Tribes that have inhabited this land since time immemorial. It is our hope and expectation that this work will save lives." 

The full report can be found here.

The research includes an extensive field study by the firm LeCroy & Milligan Associates, Inc. and Honwungsi Consulting Services, LLC whose hardworking employees interviewed law enforcement representatives, survivors and family members of those who went missing. The Office of Attorney General Mark Brnovich partnered with the Committee and funded the field study.

“We must all work together to address the nationwide epidemic of murdered and missing Indigenous women and the establishment of this study committee has been a strong step in that direction,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich. “Victims, their families, and communities deserve justice and we’ve now provided recommendations for our tribal, state, and federal governments to take action.”

The research showed that confusion over jurisdiction, lack of resources for victims' advocates and failure to provide culturally competent training create cracks that Indigenous women and girls fall through. The report uncovered a correlation between substance abuse, domestic violence and sex trafficking, which are often contributing factors to disappearances and murders.

As a mother of a survivor shared, "I hope this study is able to do something because every day a child or loved one is missing. They need to think, what if it was my daughter, or sister, or mother? Maybe this will change their perspective."

The report also includes research into inequities in the state's crime victim compensation program. And Arizona State University's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Research on Violent Victimization Lab collaborated with the study committee and contributed its report entitled Reducing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Employing numerous Indigenous faculty members and student researchers, the Arizona State University report identified systemic and jurisdictional barriers among law enforcement and national crime-tracking databases that slow progress on addressing the crisis.

"We firmly believe that the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is solvable," said Arizona State University's Dr. Fox, who was the lead researcher for the report, which she presented to the study committee. 

A full list of the Committee's policy recommendations follows:

MISSING AND MURDERED INDIGENOUS WOMEN AND GIRLS (MMIWG) RECOMMENDATIONS

LEGISLATIVE RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Introduce legislation (A.R.S. § 41-2404) to require that at least one member of the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission (ACJC) be a representative from an Arizona land-based Indian Tribe.
  2. Establish an Arizona Missing Persons Assistance Fund.
  3. Partner with Congressional delegation to reauthorize and amend the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to fully restore Tribal inherent criminal and civil jurisdiction, through a full “Oliphant-Fix.”
  4. Propose the expansion of legislative language pertaining to the safety and protection of all people to be inclusive of people of color, the LGBTQ and Two-Spirit community, and Indigenous Peoples.
  5. Mandate law enforcement agencies report missing and unidentified persons and conduct National Missing & Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) entry within a designated time period.
  6. Mandate all police departments report all cases of missing children to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
  7. Require all law enforcement training around missing and murdered Indigenous Peoples be co-developed with Tribal governments and Tribal organizations utilizing subject matter experts.
  8. Create legislation to ensure statewide documentation of race, gender, and ethnicity in all law enforcement reports and forms.
  9. Introduce legislation reauthorizing and funding continued research on MMIWG and Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP).
  10. Work with federal partners to expand VAWA and Tribal Court jurisdiction.
  11. Develop a model state statute creating Special County Deputy Prosecutors and provide necessary funding.
  12. Form an Arizona State Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force or recommend the addition of Arizona members and state funding to existing federal offices located in the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) or the Indian Country Justice Network.
  13. Add Indigenous representatives to Arizona Boards or Commissions (e.g., ACJC, AZPOST, and Arizona Department of Homeland Security Regional Advisory Councils).
  14. Introduce legislation to establish the definition of MMIWG as: "Indigenous women and girls, or Indigenous persons who identify as female, who are missing or have lost their lives from violence caused by another person." 

LAW ENFORCEMENT RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Develop approaches to close law enforcement gaps, delineate jurisdictional responsibility, and enforce accountability while respecting sovereignty, through inter-jurisdictional communication, intergovernmental agreements, and increased coordination.
  2. Develop and implement a statewide missing persons policy for both children and adults that outlines step-by-step procedures.
  3. Facilitate cross-deputization (permission to cross-borders) for Tribal law enforcement departments and officers to share information pertaining to investigations and case reviews.
  4. Encourage memorandums of understanding (MOUs) between Tribal and non-Tribal law enforcement agencies.
  5. Establish a law enforcement task force for missing persons that includes Tribal law enforcement agencies with an emphasis on victims' rights and victim advocacy as part of the process.
  6. Increase the recruitment of Indigenous Peoples in all levels of law enforcement agencies and allow Indigenous recruits to request being assigned to their home area, if jurisdiction allows.
  7. Increase training and community orientations for law enforcement officers, including cultural awareness and competency, sensitivity to victims and their families, communication with families and survivors, Tribal sovereignty, MMIWG, and violence against Indigenous Peoples.
  8. Provide cultural sensitivity training to Arizona prosecutors and judiciary who might encounter crimes involving MMIWG.
  9. Train cross-deputized departments on tribal jurisdiction considerations.
  10. Require Tribal affiliation data be collected by law enforcement and/or prosecutors on every victim.
  11. Train law enforcement officers to ask victims if they are Native American and Tribal affiliation.
  12. Ensure that any sexual assault and rape kits submitted by Tribal Law Enforcement agencies to any agency that contracts to process forensic examination evidence and be processed on a timely basis. ** (needs more specific language)
  13. Develop a program and partnership with County Medical Examiners and Tribes to create a project that establishes a safe, humane, and effective process for families of MMIWG and MMIP similar to the Colibri Center and in association with the 12 federally funded Regional Tribal Epidemiology Centers.

ADMINISTRATIVE RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Establish a permanent MMIP focused state office run by Indigenous Peoples that partners with all 22 Tribes to ensure the coordination of training, services, resource allocation, relationship building, collaboration, and data fidelity.
  2. Through the Rulemaking Process amend R10-4-108 – Modify the Arizona Victim Compensation Fund Award Criteria so that:
    1. Native American ceremony or burial are considered reasonable and customary funeral expenses and shall be included in a claim for a compensation award.
    2. Mental health counseling and care that is provided by an individual who is employed or contracted with a tribal health care organization, the Indian Health Services, any Veteran's Administration (VA) provider, or an Urban Indian Health Program shall be included in a claim for a compensation award.
  3. Permit the Arizona Crime Victim Compensation Program (AzCVCP) to include Missing Person cases (both MMIWG and MMIP) as being eligible to receive compensation.
  4. Establish a Victim Compensation Board representative of Tribal jurisdiction.
  5. Conduct regular and ongoing consultations with the 22 Arizona land-based Tribes regarding the AzCVCP.
  6. Conduct regular and ongoing outreach and education about the AzCVCP and other programs within the ACJC to Indigenous communities, both on and off the Reservation.
  7. Ensure designation of Tribal affiliation by AzCVCP applicants.
  8. Provide ongoing data analysis and information regarding Indigenous communities' access to the AzCVCP. 

VICTIM SERVICE RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Provide funding opportunities and increase current funding opportunities for Tribes and Tribal non-profit agencies or those led by Indigenous People that serve Indigenous victims.
  2. Offer survivors and family members of MMIWG wrap-around services from a network of agencies and centralize the provisions of services where appropriate.
  3. Increase access and funding to shelters and safe houses for survivors fleeing violence in urban areas and in Tribal communities with a prioritization of shelters on Tribal lands.
  4. Increase access to Indigenous legal advocates to help survivors and families navigate the legal system and to accompany survivors to court proceedings.
  5. Provide a centralized reporting site for missing and murdered persons that honors the unique nature of all of the 22 Arizona land-based Tribes and urban Indian population that provides an accurate account of MMIWG in Arizona.
  6. Identify potential placements for a 24-hour MMIWG crisis hotline, whether it be consolidated under an existing hotline or the creation of a new one. 

DATA IMPROVEMENT RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Conduct a comprehensive follow-up study to determine the scope of the MMIWG crisis by examining each of the factors that contribute to incidents of MMIWG, and to determine the scope and impact of MMIWG in Arizona.
  2. Establish methods and protocols for tracking, gathering, and collecting data on violence against Indigenous Peoples, including data on MMIWG, by Tribal affiliation.
  3. Request that the federal government fully fund the Department of Justice (DOJ) Tribal Access Program (TAP) to provide access to federal crime databases, in order to enhance the safety of Indian Country, enable information sharing, and eliminate safe havens for criminals, pursuant to the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 (TLOA), 25 U.S.C. §2810 (2010).
  4. Establish MOUs to enable Tribal law enforcement agencies without TAP capabilities to gain access to the Arizona Department of Public Safety criminal database.
  5. Include data points in NamUs to publicly document historical missing persons, including solved cases. The data should also include information on the outcome of resolved missing persons cases.
  6. Incorporate data on MMIP to include information on race and Tribal affiliations for victims and offenders.
  7. Fund law enforcement agencies and provide resources to improve training on appropriate ways to classify victims.
  8. Invest in technological infrastructure and public records administration resources of all law enforcement agencies, including the digitalization of records.
  9. Increase access to local and national law enforcement data and remove restrictions to enable the compilation of comprehensive case files.
  10. Streamline and reduce the burdens of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, including reducing financial costs and time delays, as much as practicable.
  11. Allow Arizona Tribes to have full access and input to information available in currently restricted databases, such as NamUs, Tribal Access Program (TAP), National Crime Information Center (NCIC), and Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS), as much as practicable. Provide Tribes access to edit or add to the data on their citizens and require notification to the Tribe when a Tribal member has been added to a database.

RESOURCE ALLOCATION RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Centralize and specify permanent funding and technical assistance available to Arizona land-based Tribes.
  2. Strategically improve outreach and dissemination of available and up-to-date resources to Arizona Tribal communities.
  3. Collaborate with Tribal communities, organizations, and border towns to create and develop Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART), with a special emphasis on Tribal cultural competency.
  4. Create and disseminate information kits for survivors and families of MMIWG with resources, service directories, and orientation to the legal system. **(Reference back to VCF program)
  5. Call for the increase of federal funding for Arizona Tribal justice systems through the Tribal Justice Support Act, (Title 25 U.S.C. 3602 et seq.) and the Office of Tribal Justice Support, within the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
  6. Support and call for appropriations by the federal government to directly fund the design, development, and construction of Arizona Tribal courts, multi-purpose justice centers, Tribal correctional facilities, Tribal facilities for law enforcement, drug and alcohol treatment and programming space, public defender offices, and the expansion or renovation of Tribal courts and justice facilities that support alternatives to incarceration. 

TRAINING AND EDUCATION RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Designate annual training for all social services and law enforcement professionals to include 60 hours of annual training that prioritizes training for cultural responsiveness.
  2. Offer and fund additional training to schools and teachers on recognizing the warning signs of children who are victimized, as well as the appropriate reporting mechanisms.
  3. Offer human trafficking training resources to Arizona land-based Tribal law enforcement agencies, casinos, and hotels.
  4. Engage the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in collaboration with Arizona land-based Tribes and the federal government, to ensure services regarding domestic violence, substance use, and mental health are meeting the needs of Tribal communities.
  5. Require all Arizona State departments to enforce their Tribal consultation policies regarding any work, activities, policies, etc., that can have impact on Arizona land-based Tribes.
  6. Increase public outreach initiatives to engage the participation of Indigenous Peoples and allocate resources to ensure cultural safety and inclusion for Indigenous Peoples.
  7. Increase public education and advocacy to heighten awareness of Indigenous history, rights and safety.
  8. In partnership with Arizona’s Tribal domestic and sexual violence coalitions, support training, and technical assistance for advocacy response and tailor the advocacy to specific victimization experiences.
  9. Work with Arizona land-based Tribes to facilitate NamUs and NCMEC training in their communities and encourage Tribal and non-Tribal law enforcement and family members to utilize the training.
  10. Encourage community led prevention and advocacy to empower Indigenous Peoples to report family violence.
  11. Organize and conduct education events on MMIWG awareness day (May 5th) for MMIWG prevention, awareness, identification of risk factors, analysis of plans for victim safety, trauma informed practices, responsiveness to gender and sexual orientation, sex trafficking, remembrance, and community organizing.
  12. Create a State MMIWG website with resources, links, data dashboards, information, and reporting links.
  13. Create a social media awareness campaign and implement a public-relations initiative to establish community confidence in and support for the justice system.
  14. Design, develop, and implement prevention and intervention strategies for youth, men, and boys (e.g. Indivisible Tohono and A Call to Men).
  15. Develop a “best practices guide” for inter-jurisdictional matters (e.g., contact information, how to report a missing person or report a crime in each jurisdiction, court information, how to obtain and enforce orders of protection, basic jurisdictional information, how to identify and report suspected human trafficking, and a list of Arizona Tribes and Tribal resources). 

COLLABORATIVE RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Create an inter-agency case review team that meets regularly with Arizona land-based Tribes. The inter-agency case review team may include Tribal, local, county, state, and federal agencies that handle MMIWG cases, including law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, Tribal and non-Tribal courts, child protective services, direct service providers, medical examiners, Tribal coalitions, tasks forces, and families affected by MMIWG.
  2. Designate a Tribal liaison or advocate within each individual Arizona land-based Tribe.
  3. Collaborate with Indigenous researchers to carry out studies with Tribal input and support and ensure that non-Indigenous research partners have Indigenous staff or extensive experience working with Indigenous communities and include extensive networks of Indigenous collaborators.
  4. Promote meaningful collaborations between academics, front-line practitioners, families of MMIWG, survivors of violence, and grassroots organizations to inform policy and service delivery.
  5. Develop multi-jurisdictional Endangered Missing Advisory Systems and Plans, that enables collaboration among agencies to broadcast and search for missing persons that do not fit AMBER Alert criteria. 
Arizona House Democrats - Indigenous Peoples Caucus- screenshot
(Image: Arizona House Democrats, Senate Dems - Indigenous Peoples Caucus)

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