President Obama Signs Historic Tribal Law & Order Act Into Law

Published on Jul 29, 2010

 Enactment of Legislation Hailed as Historic and Will Empower Tribes to Make Communities Safer

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Washington, DC - President Barack Obama has signed into law historic legislation that will significantly enhance tribal law enforcement and the coordination of enforcement with United States Government.

“Today, by enacting the Tribal Law and Order Act, President Obama and the United States government reaffirmed its federal trust responsibility to work with tribal nations to strengthen our governments, our people and our communities,” said President Jefferson Keel of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). “We will use the tools in the Tribal Law and Order Act to crack down on crime and make our communities safer.” 

NCAI President Jefferson Keel joined tribal leaders, federal officials, tribal and human rights advocates, and tribal law enforcement officers, as the President signed into law the Tribal Law and Order Act at a signing ceremony at the White House.  The legislation was signed into law as part of the Indian Arts and Crafts Amendment Act of 2010.

Currently, Indian reservations nationwide face violent crime rates more than 2.5 times the national rate.  Some reservations face more than 20 times the national rate of violence.  More than 1 in 3 American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetimes, and 2 in 5 will face domestic or partner violence.  The Department of Justice has also found that at least 86 per cent of rape and sexual assault perpetrators are non-Indian.  

The Tribal Law and Order Act takes a comprehensive approach to address these shortfalls by establishing accountability measures for Federal agencies responsible for investigating and prosecuting reservation crime, and by providing tribes with additional tools to combat crime locally. The Act provides law enforcement officials and tribes increased evidence sharing and federal declination data recording, access to national criminal history records, improved tribal court sentencing authority, and enables deputization of either federal or tribal agents as the situation requires.   

Major provisions of the Tribal Law & Order Act include:

  • Evidence Sharing and Declination Data:  Requires federal prosecutors to maintain data on criminal declinations in Indian country, and to share evidence to support prosecutions in tribal court.

  • Tribal Court Sentencing: Increases tribal court sentencing authority from 1 to 3 years imprisonment where certain constitutional protections are met.

  • Federal Testimony: Requires Federal officials who work in Indian country to testify about information gained in the scope of their duties to support a prosecution in tribal court.

  • Tribal Police Access to Criminal History Records: Many tribal police have no access to criminal history records.  The bill will provide tribal police greater access to criminal history databases that provide them with essential information when detaining or arresting a suspect.

  • Improves transparency in Public Safety spending by the BIA, and requires greater consultation on the part of the BIA to tribal communities on matters affecting public safety and justice.

  • Increased sexual assault training and standardized protocols for handling sex crimes, interviewing witnesses, and handling evidence of domestic and sexual violence crimes in Indian country.

  • Increases recruitment and retention efforts for BIA and Tribal Police

  • Expands training opportunities for BIA and tribal police to receive training at State police academies, and tribal, state, and local colleges – where Federal law enforcement training standards are met.

  • Increases Deputizations of Tribal and State Police to Enforce Federal Law: Enhances Special Law Enforcement Commission program to deputize officers to enforce federal laws on Indian lands.

  • Authorizes deputization of Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys to prosecute reservation crimes in Federal courts, and encourages Federal Courts to hold cases in Indian country. 

  • Ahthorizes the Drug Enforcement Agency to deputize tribal police to assist on reservation drug raids.

  • Programmatic Reauthorizations:  The bill will reauthorize and improve existing programs designed to strengthen tribal courts, police departments, and corrections centers – as well as programs to prevent and treat alcohol and substance abuse, and improve opportunities for at-risk Indian youth.


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