South Dakota study disputes Indian crime statistics
A Republican state official who has opposed tribes on land-into-trust, jurisdiction, voting rights and sovereignty has set his sights on long-held statistics about crime in Indian Country.

In two studies, the Department of Justice reported that up to 70 percent of violent crimes against Indian victims were committed by non-Indians. The data has been used by tribal advocates to call for more law enforcement funding and to restore tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians.

But South Dakota attorney general Larry Long, who earlier this year opposed tribal jurisdiction in a critical U.S. Supreme Court case, claims the numbers are wrong. In a new article, he says the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the agency that authored the DOJ reports, has misstated the true nature of crime in Indian Country.

"We suspected that, at best, the BJS studies may be generally accurate at the national level, yet too broad to reflect the reality of violent crime in the context of the northern plains in and near reservation communities where many American Indians live and work," wrote Long and his co-authors from the state and the University of South Dakota. "At worst, we feared, the BJS studies are flawed and fuel misconceptions about American Indians and violence nationwide."

Long's first complaint about the BJS studies is that they don't include data from the federal justice system. He also notes that studies were based on a national crime victim's survey and not on actual data.

So Long looked at crime data from state and federal agencies in South Dakota "to deliver a more accurate sense of crime in the state." His findings ended up being completely opposite from the ones in the BJS studies, according to the article.

Based on state data, nearly 73 percent of Indian homicides were committed by other Indians, Long wrote. From the U.S. Attorney's Office in South Dakota, the authors said 97 percent of homicides were Indian-Indian crimes.

"From our analysis, we found that intentional homicide is predominantly intra-racial in South Dakota, contrary to the BJS findings," the article stated.

Despite arriving at a different conclusion than BJS, Long acknowledged that the homicide rate on reservations in South Dakota rivals metropolitan Chicago and is even higher than Los Angeles and New York City.

Moving onto rapes, Long said state data showed 69 percent of Indian victims were assaulted by other Indians. The federal data showed 99 percent were intra-racial rape cases, according to the article.

"Contrary to the BJS's national findings, rape is predominantly intra-racial in South Dakota," Long wrote.

At the same time, the state data showed that Indian victims were 37 percent of all first and second-degree rape victims despite being only 8.3 percent of the population. This disparity was comparable to that found in the BJS study, which showed that American Indians were five times as likely be the victims of rape.

"South Dakota reservations had a forcible rape rate of 25.4 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2004; a rate that was lower than Los Angeles, but higher than New York City," the article stated.

Long further stated that Indians in South Dakota are 10 times more likely to be targeted for crime by other Indians than by non-Indians. Most Indian victims know their perpetrators, he added.

The article acknowledges that Indian crime statistics in South Dakota are unique in some critical ways. The biggest factor is that the overwhelming majority of the Indian population in the state resides on reservations.

Most, but not all, of reservations in the state are majority Indian. So crimes like homicide and rape are more likely to occur among Indians, the article stated.

"In the rural context within and around Indian country, American Indian violent victimization rates tend to be opposite of the urban setting," Long wrote. In most other states, the urban Indian population outweighs the rural Indian population.

The majority Indian presence on reservations also means crimes involving Indians end up in the federal justice system. So the data from the U.S. Attorney's Office in South Dakota reflects nearly exclusively Indian-Indian crime patterns.

Since being elected attorney general in 2002, Long tried to invalidate the land-into-trust provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 in order to block the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe from acquiring trust lands. The effort was unsuccessful.

Long also unsuccessfully tried to force the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe to serve state subpoenas on its members as part of an investigation for alleged crimes that occurred off the reservation. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

In another dispute, Long tried to keep the state from refunding gasoline taxes to tribal members. The courts found that the state illegally imposed the tax as far back as the 1920s.

Long supported a non-Indian bank that challenged the jurisdiction of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. The Supreme Court sided with the bank in a decision released in June.

South Dakota Study:
Jurisdictional Variation in American Indian Criminal Justice: An Argument for Stronger Understanding and Better Methods (July 2008)

Related Stories:
South Dakota AG disputes Indian crime studies (7/15)
Supreme Court reverses tribal jurisdiction ruling (6/25)
Supreme Court rulings awaited in Indian Country (6/24)
Supreme Court hears tribal jurisdiction case (4/15)
Supreme Court agrees to hear tribal jurisdiction case (1/8)
Lower Brule Sioux Tribe blasts treatment by state (10/9)
Supreme Court won't hear land-into-trust cases (10/3)
Gaming summit ends with promise but little else (3/31)
Off-reservation casinos a concern at gaming summit (3/30)
South Dakota challenge to tribes rejected by high court (10/19)
Appeal planned in South Dakota voting rights case (09/17)
Judge: South Dakota violated Indian voting rights (9/16)
US Supreme Court won't touch Indian tax ruling (5/24)
Court won't rehear challenge to tribal land base (5/21)
S.D. tribes contest reach of Supreme Court case (2/19)
S.D. puts pressure on tribal sovereignty (2/12)