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Thune Testifies on Indian Crime Bill

--Hearing Addresses Standing Rock Policing Surge--

June 19, 2008

Washington, D.C. —  Senator John Thune today joined Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Ron His Horse Is Thunder in testifying before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in regard to the draft Indian Crime bill that Senator Thune and others have drafted.

"The absence of basic levels of public safety on many of our nation's reservations has reached a crisis point," said Thune. "The law enforcement surge on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation is already showing signs of success, but there is still much that needs to be done to combat the high crime rates that plague much of Indian Country.

"The draft bill before the Indian Affairs Committee encourages the appointment of Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys to prosecute reservation crimes in federal courts, empowers tribal justice systems, and improves the collection of data regarding crimes committed in Indian Country, which would allow for more adaptive methods to combat lawlessness."

Last year, Senator Thune hosted a roundtable meeting with leaders from all nine of South Dakota's tribes, and law enforcement and public safety was the top concern. Since then, Senator Thune has worked with tribal, state, and federal officials to find ways to address the public safety crisis-including efforts both last year and this year to boost federal funding for additional law enforcement officers and to improve tribal court systems.

Particularly, Senator Thune has worked with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to implement "Operation Dakota Peacekeeper," a surge of BIA law enforcement personnel on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation aimed at combating violent crime. In today's hearing, Chairman His Horse Is Thunder addressed the surge by saying, "We have 20 additional officers on our reservation right now, and it has made a world of difference." Senator Thune also advocated using the surge at Standing Rock as a model for future efforts to combat crime on other reservations.

Senator Thune has encouraged South Dakota's tribal leaders, state and tribal law enforcement officials, and other stakeholders to review the proposed Indian Crime legislation and submit their opinions and suggestions on how it can better suit the needs of South Dakota's tribes and others across the nation.

"Guaranteeing basic public safety for South Dakota's tribes is the first step to creating jobs and improving education," said Thune. "I encourage South Dakota's tribal leaders, state law enforcement officials, and other interested parties to take a leadership role in making the Indian Crime bill a stepping stone for greater improvements across Indian Country and the nation."