Recent Press Releases

Thune Sponsors Indian Crime Bill

Measure Seeks to Address Reservation Crime Problems

April 2, 2009

Washington, D.C. —  U.S. Senator John Thune today announced the introduction of the bipartisan Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009. Senator Thune, an original cosponsor of this legislation, was a leader in the first Tribal Law and Order Act, which was first introduced in the last session of Congress.

"Americans in communities all over the country strive for safe schools and neighborhoods, where law enforcement is reliable and accessible, and where justice is served," said Thune. "Unfortunately, many tribal communities in South Dakota and across the nation lack basic public safety resources, and there are many negative consequences. An unsafe school environment with exposure to violence and drugs puts students at a disadvantage. Similarly, businesses will continue to struggle to create jobs if basic public safety needs cannot be met. Tackling the crime issue will help to pave the way for major quality of life improvements in Indian Country. I have listened to the tribal leaders in South Dakota and have worked together with them to try to find solutions.

"Making greater efforts to prosecute reservation crime will require the coordination of tribal, state, and federal authorities. This bill is a positive step toward achieving that goal."

The Tribal Law and Order Act provides for the appointment of special U.S. Attorneys who can ensure that violent crime on reservations is prosecuted, improves the training programs for reservation police, empowers tribal courts to address crime by extending their sentencing authority, and improves the collection and reporting of data relating to crime in Indian Country.

Last year, Senator Thune asked South Dakota tribal leaders, law enforcement officials, and other stakeholders to submit their comments and suggestions on the draft bill that was circulated at that time. As a result of those comments, Senator Thune worked with Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) to include a provision that allows magistrates to hold trials and other court proceedings in tribal courtrooms as opposed to federal courts. Senator Thune also added language ensuring that if tribal governments and federal courts enter into agreements allowing for such trials, the Department of Justice is authorized to provide technical and other assistance.

The Thune provision requires that the Department of Justice report on the most effective methods of using community police programs on Indian reservations and to review the effectiveness of past community policing efforts on reservations. Thune's provision also directs the Department of Justice to explore the implementation of policing techniques guided by the "broken windows theory," which emphasizes the importance of addressing small-scale crimes that contribute to a climate of law-breaking which can overwhelm and destabilize a community.

The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009 goes beyond the 2008 bill in requiring more detailed reporting by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to Congress. It also gives tribal law enforcement agencies access to the National Crime Information Center and recognizes the need for tribal 9-1-1 emergency services.

Last year, President Bush signed into law a $50 billion foreign assistance bill that included Senator Thune's amendment creating the Emergency Fund for Indian Safety and Health. The fund is authorized to spend $2 billion over the next five years for critical public safety, health care, and water needs in Indian Country, but Congress must appropriate the money into the fund. Unfortunately, the Senate recently defeated a measure offered by Senator Thune that would have appropriated $400 million to the fund.