Crimes in the indian country- Public law 280

 Crime in Indian Country
Crime data for reservations covered by Public Law 280 do not exist.13 Public
Law 280 states do not collect crime data specifically for Indian country, and the federal
government does not request such data, either through the Department of the Interior, FBI
Criminal Justice Information Services, or the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Goldberg and
Singleton did a pilot study for two counties in California, seeking to determine whether
9 See, e.g., Milo Colton, “Self-Determination and the American Indian: A Case Study,” 4 Scholar 1, 26-27
(2001) (Winnebago); Mark. R. Scherer, Imperfect Victories: The Legal Tenacity of the Omaha Tribe,
1945-1995, 26-30 (Lincoln: Univ. of Neb. Press 1999), (Omaha); Bonnie Bozarth, “Public Law 280 and the
Flathead Experience,” 39 Journal of the West 46, 49 (2000); Ashley and Hubbard, supra note 6, at 85
10 See Wakeling, supra note 8, at 35.
11 Id.
12 Ashley and Hubbard, supra note 6, at 85.
13 Carole Goldberg and Heather Singleton, Public Law 280 and Law Enforcement in Indian Country--
Research Priorities (National Institute of Justice, Research in Brief, 2005), available at 

http:// (last visited October 22, 2007).
This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
county sheriffs would be willing and able to supply such data. It appeared that gathering
the data was burdensome for county staff, but not impossible. Furthermore, the
preliminary data from reservations in one county suggests higher crime rates than other
parts of the county and state.14
Crime data for Indian country generally are problematic due to underreporting of
crime. Initial underreporting by crime victims is largely due to conditions unique to
Indian country, such as a long-standing distrust of law enforcement authorities,
geographic isolation causing heightened fear of retaliation by victims of family violence,
and the perception that police intervention is not legitimate or effective in communities
that traditionally relied on other forms of dispute resolution.15 Furthermore, police
departments in Indian country do not systematically collect crime data due to
understaffing, a lack of data collection and analysis systems, and limited resources.16
Moreover, tribal departments lack incentives to report the data that are collected to
federal agencies, with only 32% of non-Public Law 280 tribes submitting official crime
reports to the BIA in 1996.17
Much of the discussion of Indian country crime gets confused with national data
about criminal activity and crime victimization of Indians identified by race.18 Those
data have no necessary correspondence to crime rates within Indian country.
Furthermore, researchers eager to make claims about reservation crime often resort to
questionable indirect measures, such as victimization rates for Indians within counties in
which reservations are located in whole or in part,19 even though some of those counties
(for example, San Diego, California) are home to many urban Indians. Nonetheless,
some research findings are available regarding crime rates on those reservations not
subject to Public Law 280.
14 Id.
15 See Wakeling, supra note 8, at 13-14. Very recently, researchers have begun conducting crime
victimization surveys on individual reservations. See, e.g., Julie C. Abril, Results from the Southern Ute
Indian Community Safety Survey (December 25, 2007), available at
grants/212237.pdf (last visited October 22, 2007).
16 Id. at 14-15.
17 Id; Executive Committee for Indian Country Law Enforcement Improvements, Final Report to the
Attorney General and the Secretary of the Interior, n. 11 (1997). An earlier discussion of problems with
crime reporting is Sidney Harring, “Native American Crime in the United States,” in Laurence French, ed.,
Indians and Criminal Justice (Allanheld, Osmun 1982).

 18 A good example of this confusion is Troy L. Armstrong, Michael H. Guilfoyle, and Ada Pecos Melton,
“Native American Delinquency: An Overview of Prevalence, Causes, and Correlates,” in Marianne O.
Nielsen & Robert A. Silverman, eds., Native Americans, Crime, and Justice 76-82 (Westview Press, 1996).
In reviewing the literature on Native American delinquency, the authors mix together reservation-based
data with national data identifying Indian juvenile offenders by race or ethnicity.
19 See, e.g., Ronet Bachman, Death & Violence on the Reservation: Homicide, Family Violence, and
Suicide in American Indian Populations (Auburn House 1992). 

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
According to a 1997 Report of the Executive Committee for Indian Country Law
Enforcement Improvements, co-sponsored by the U.S. Departments of Justice and
Interior, a reported crime in Indian country outside of Public Law 280 jurisdictions is
twice as likely to be violent as compared to a crime reported elsewhere in the United
States.20 The Executive Committee for Indian Country Law Enforcement Improvements
found that in contrast to a decline in violent crime nationwide from 1992 to 1996,
homicide rates for non-Public Law 280 Indian country rose sharply, an increase
paralleled by other violent crimes such as gang violence, domestic abuse, and child
abuse.21 However, in an analysis of 1992 crime data from 200 non-Public Law 280 BIA
and tribal police departments,

 Ken Peak found that except for murder, reported Part I
offenses (homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and arson) per
100,000 population were lower than the national average.22 Rates of burglary and motor
vehicle theft were significantly lower in Indian country than in equivalent rural areas,
although robbery was reported at a much greater rate. At the same time, some Part II
offenses, such as disorderly conduct, drunkenness, vandalism, and DUI, were drastically
higher for Indian country. Although many reservation residents live in isolated rural
areas, the majority of reservation crime takes place in semi-urban townships or villages
where a significant number of residents live.23 Furthermore, the reservation populace
perceives crime as a major problem as evidenced by 12 out of 17 chiefs of tribal police
departments interviewed by the Community Policing Consortium rating community fear
of crime as medium or high.24
Despite the arguable increase in violent crime, the crimes that occupy the largest
percentage of police officers’ time in Indian Country, outside of Public Law 280
jurisdictions, are alcohol related. The research study conducted by Wakeling and others
involved brief visits to several tribal police departments, an in-depth study of four tribal
police departments, and a survey, 

part I of which was sent to 200 police departments in
Indian country (including 66 large tribes with police departments), and part II of which
was sent only to those 66 large tribes’ police departments; 46 out of 66 large tribes
responded to part I and 39 responded to part II.25 Wakeling et al. found that alcohol23
20 Executive Committee, supra note 17, at 6. The Report does not provide a source for this statement.
21 Id. at 7-8.
22 Ken Peak, “Policing and Crime in Indian Country.” 10 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice No. 2
23 Wakeling, supra note 8, at 18.
24 Community Policing Consortium. To Protect and Serve: An Overview of Community Policing on Indian
Reservations, available at (last visited April 5,
2005) at chapter 2. This study does not reveal whether the police chiefs who responded to the survey were
from tribes subject to state jurisdiction under Public Law 280.
25 Wakeling, supra note 8, at 2-3.
This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
related crimes constituted the leading category of calls for service, incident reports, and
arrests.26 Interviewed officers, administrators, and tribal leaders routinely cited alcohol
abuse as the single biggest challenge facing their departments and communities, with one
commanding officer estimating that some form of alcohol abuse was responsible for 90%
of his department’s calls.
The Wakeling study also concluded that the workload of police departments in
non-Public Law 280 Indian country is increasing at a substantial rate. For example from
1994 to 1996 the police departments of the four tribes that were studied in depth saw
average annual increases above 20% for incident reports and almost 30% for arrests
while the number of officers remained relatively constant.27 Recent statistics indicate that
this trend has continued with the Indian country jail population, excluding Public Law
280 jurisdictions, rising by 8% from 2000 to 2001 with a 34% increase for confinement
as a result of driving under the influence of alcohol.28 However it is uncertain that the
increased workload is the result of rising crime rates, as reservation communities are
demanding more frequent and rapid responses to a broad range of problems; and greater
community confidence in police and criminal justice responses may lead to increased
crime reporting.

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