Crime in Indian country targeted

Published Tuesday January 12, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department on Monday ordered prosecutors in 33 states — including Nebraska and Iowa — to step up their efforts to combat violent crime on Indian reservations, particularly offenses against women and children.

Attorney General Eric Holder was to announce the initiative after his deputy, David Ogden, issued a memo to federal prosecutors in those areas, instructing them to do more to fight crime on tribal lands — a persistent problem that Justice has long been accused of ignoring. Ogden’s memo said 47 new prosecutors and FBI employees would be assigned to handle such crimes.

On tribal lands, federal officials are usually responsible for prosecuting serious crimes. While the nationwide crime rate continues to fall, statistics show that American Indians are the victims of violent crime at more than twice the national rate — and some tribes have homicide rates against women 10 times higher than the national average.

Often, law enforcement resources on reservations are stretched thin across wide geographic areas. Ogden wrote in the memo that the new demands on prosecutors will help make reservations safer “and turn back the unacceptable tide of domestic and sexual violence there.”

Jurisdiction has long been an obstacle. The Justice Department shares responsibility on Indian lands with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is part of the Interior Department, and with state and tribal governments. Jurisdiction over a crime can vary by state, by the severity of the crime and by whether the victim and suspect are Indian or non-Indian.

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