The Bureau of Indian Affairs and FBI Are Trying to Be Better Law Enforcement Partners
A new agreement bolsters information sharing, defines roles and more.
Federal agencies are working to improve law enforcement in Indian Country, which faces an epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous individuals.
Last week, in the lead-up to the White House Tribal Nations Summit, the White House announced a list of actions the Biden administration is taking to support Tribal Nations in a variety of capacities, including public safety and justice.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs and FBI, which both have jurisdiction for investigating crimes in Indian County, “entered into a Memorandum of Understanding that updates the operational agreements between these two agencies for the first time since 1993,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at the summit on December 1. “This MOU will strengthen information sharing processes and expand avenues for collaboration between the agencies during criminal investigations. The changes, which reflect Tribal feedback, will make our investigations both more efficient and more effective.”
Families of missing and murdered Indigenous individuals, an issue that predominantly affects women, have “long expressed frustration with the investigative process,” according to the Missoulian. “Tribal law enforcement agencies are often understaffed and underfunded, and families often grow frustrated when Bureau of Indian Affairs and FBI officers give little to no information on the investigative process or timeline. A patchwork of laws also tangles jurisdiction among state, tribal and federal entities, making the process even more convoluted for families seeking justice.”
The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Justice Services and FBI will create written guidance on their jurisdiction and investigative roles for FBI, BIA and Tribal law enforcement agencies. The agreement says that these law enforcement officers will get training on “trauma-informed, culturally responsive investigative approaches,” said a press release from the Justice Department.
“The agreement also specifies that the FBI will take an initial primary role in the investigation of any BIA or Tribal law enforcement officer-involved shootings and in-custody death incidents,” the Justice Department stated. “The BIA will concurrently conduct separate internal administrative investigations of any BIA or Tribal law enforcement officer-involved shootings and in-custody death incidents.”
According to the Justice Department, this agreement will support a unified response to the “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples crisis” as well as the “Missing and Murdered Unit,” which Interior Secretary Deb Haaland launched. The agreement defines the FBI, BIA and tribal investigators’ responsibilities to make sure that missing persons cases are put into the National Crime Information Center, National Incident-Based Reporting System and other relevant federal databases, and that their DNA is submitted into the National Missing Person DNA Database.