Indian Country law enforcement face rollbacks
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MAY 7, 2001

Underfunded and understaffed law enforcement programs in Indian Country face significant rollbacks should the Bush administration succeed in cutting the COPS program from the Department of Justice's budget.

Instituted in 1994 by the Clinton administration, the Community Oriented Policing Services program has put more than 110,000 police officers on the beat nationwide. It faces a 56 percent cut beginning in fiscal year 2002 as part of a $1.6 billion slash in funding for programs Attorney General John Ashcroft says has served their purpose.

But for Indian Country, it would be hard to find a reason to cut the program. In January, Ashcroft's department released a study showing that American Indians and Alaska Natives are the victims of violent crime at more than twice the rate of other populations.

Other studies point to alarmingly high rates of violence in Indian Country. Native women are the victims of domestic violence at higher rates than others, illicit drug use among Indian youth is the highest in the nation, and overcrowded jails are the norm for tribes.

And just last week, the Bureau of Indian Affairs added the name of Oglala Lakota Officer Kelmar One Feather to an ever-growing list of tribal law enforcement who have died on the job. BIA and tribal officials attribute the deaths of One Feather and his counterparts to an historic lack of funding for law enforcement.

The COPS program includes a grants specifically aimed at tribes. COPS grants are paying for nearly 100 tribal officers in New Mexico, almost 200 in Arizona, including about 80 for the Navajo Nation alone, and about 140 tribal cops in South Dakota.

COPS funding has provided for more than 60 officers for the Oglala Lakota Tribe. Still, the boost in funding didn't help pay for a secure police vehicle which could have prevented One Feather's death last July, indicative the wide problems tribes face in funding their police forces.

Grants through the program are not designed to be long term, either. After three years, the funding runs out, a problem the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe in South Dakota currently faces. The tribe stands to lose half of its police force once the COPS commitment ends.

Overall, Indian Country faces a huge loss without the COPS program, says Walt Lamar, acting director of the BIA's Law Enforcement Program. "We're going to step back a thousand officers and put us back to square one," said Lamar last week on the radio program Native America Calling.

Law enforcement at the BIA is separate from Department of Justice funding. The fiscal year 2002 budget for BIA law enforcement is about $160 million, although Lamar says the need is $500 million.

With about 2,600 cops serving tribal communities today, the loss in COPS funding would cut those numbers in the coming years. But by minimum standards, at least 4,300 tribal officers are needed.

In response to concerns raised about funding, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton last week said she would look at ways to coordinate programs across departments. She also said the Bush administration encourages partnerships at the local level between tribes and states.

Relevant Links:
Law Enforcement Services, Bureau of Indian Affairs -
COPS, Department of Justice -

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