Washington Steps Back From Policing Indian Lands, Even as Crime Rises

Timothy Williams, New York Times, November 12, 2012

The federal government has cut the size of its police force in Indian country, reduced financing for law enforcement and begun fewer investigations of violent felony crime, even as rates of murder and rape there have increased to more than 20 times the national average, according to data.

The data, much of it contained in recently released Justice Department reports, underscores a reputation for chronic lawlessness on Indian reservations, where unchecked crime has for years perplexed federal agencies, which are largely responsible for public safety on Indian lands.

As one illustration of the profound increase in violence in recent years—despite generally declining crime in much of the rest of the nation—F.B.I. crime data reports that the number of reported rapes on the Navajo reservation in the Southwest in the last several years has eclipsed those in nine of America’s 20 largest cities, even though there are only 180,000 people on the reservation.

The reservation’s 374 reported rapes in 2009, for example, outpaced even the total for Detroit, for decades among the nation’s most violent cities, which had 335 rapes that year.

President Obama has called violence on Indian lands “an affront to our shared humanity.” But according to federal figures, his administration has cut both the budget of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and spending on reservation law enforcement. Meanwhile, the Justice Department has opened fewer investigations of violent felonies committed in Indian country than under previous presidents, while pursuing violent crime in the rest of the nation far more aggressively than its predecessors.

From 2000 to 2010, for instance, as crime on some reservations surged by as much as 50 percent, the number of suspects on Indian lands being investigated for violent crime by United States attorneys declined by 3 percent, according to Justice Department figures.

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During that time, homicides on Indian lands rose 41 percent to 133 in 2010 from 94 in 2000; rapes increased by nearly 55 percent, to 852 from 550; and arson and robbery rates doubled, according to the F.B.I.

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