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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
This month we honor our Native American Heritage by celebrating the rich and diverse cultures and traditions of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Throughout our history, Native Americans have played an important role in our nation’s life, while also holding on to their individual tribal languages and customs.
Native American Heritage Month is also a good time to raise awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced in the past and the new ones that confront them in the present – and seek ways to support their efforts to address them.
Unfortunately, many of these communities have been largely underserved by our criminal justice system. This is especially true in Alaska, home to some of the most remote communities in our nation. According to one estimate, one-third of Alaskan villages have no local law enforcement personnel at all, and both geographical and jurisdictional issues hinder timely and effective response from local and state law enforcement, resulting in the highest per capita crime rate in the U.S.
In response, Attorney General William P. Barr authorized emergency funding in June of this year to immediately address this public safety crisis. Stating that “lives depend on it,” he said, “We are committed to seeing a change in this unacceptable, daily reality for Alaska Native people.” As part of this effort, the COPS Office has awarded $5 million in grant funding to Alaska Native agencies for the purpose of hiring, equipping, and training 20 law enforcement officers, including Village Public Safety Officers, Village Police Officers, and Tribal Police Officers.
The problems facing Alaskan communities are critical, but these tribes are not alone in dealing with overwhelming threats to their public safety. Tribes in other parts of the country also suffer from a high crime rate because of a lack of financial resources to support sufficient law enforcement personnel, confusion about whether tribal, local, state or federal law enforcement should respond to an incident, and the lack of authority to prosecute crimes that fall under federal jurisdiction.
The urgency of this situation is underscored by an estimate from the May 2016 National Institute of Justice Research Report on the Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men, indicating that more than 1.5 million American Indian and Alaska Native women had been subjected to violence.
In response, many states and Congressional representatives are currently studying or proposing legislation to address the high incidence of murdered or missing Indigenous peoples. The COPS Office is also responding to this and other tribal public safety problems. In addition to grant funding, we are offering assistance in the form of the Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance (CRI-TA).
Participation in CRI-TA is voluntary and proactive on the part of the requesting law enforcement agency. Moreover, it is collaborative in nature and driven by an agency’s stated needs, providing assistance, resources, and training tailored to the community’s specific public safety requirements.
Like all of our grant programs, CRI-TA’s goals and operational structure align with the Attorney General’s statement that “we must support the solutions that the communities themselves have identified and work in partnership with them.” We believe that this is, by far, the most effective way to address the problems that plague not only tribal lands, but the many other communities throughout our country that are ravaged by substance abuse, violence, and other crimes.
This Thanksgiving, as we recall the harvest feast shared by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians almost 300 years ago, I hope that many of us will also endeavor to learn more about the history, cultures, and traditions of American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and their many contributions to American life.
For further information, please see the Attorney General’s Emergency Announcement of Funding to Address the Public Safety Crisis in Rural Alaska
– Director Keith
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