December 14, 2017 / 5:41 PM / 7 months ago

Crime data in Native American tribal lands 'virtually useless': watchdog

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department does not adequately collect or use crime statistics from Native American tribes, a problem that has left the department with stale and “virtually useless” crime data, according to a new internal watchdog report released on Thursday.

The finding, by the department’s inspector general, is one of a number of flaws identified in how the government has executed its legal requirements under the 2010 Tribal Law and Order Act.

That law requires the Justice Department to provide legal and investigative assistance to tribes and to collect data about crimes committed in American Indian country, which comprises 567 federally recognized tribal lands. The law was enacted in response to high rates of violent crime documented back in 2002.

But in the seven years since the law was passed, the inspector general found, little progress has been made.

The department and its investigative components, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration, “still lack a coordinated approach to overseeing the assistance it provides in Indian country,” the report says.

“Further, the department has not prioritized assistance to Indian country at the level consistent with its public statements or annual reports to Congress.”

The law, for instance, requires the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics to collect crime data. However, to date, its data collection and reporting efforts are “still in development.”

Moreover, because participating in the FBI’s uniform crime data report is voluntary, some tribes do not submit information.

“Indian country crime statistics are so outdated and incomplete as to be virtually useless,” it says.

The report also found that funding and resources for Native American efforts have decreased since the passage of the law, and the level of engagement with tribes varies across different U.S. Attorneys offices and other department divisions.

In responding to the concerns, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, which provides administrative support to the country’s 93 U.S. Attorneys, said it disagrees that uniform crime reporting data would be appropriate for the more than 500 unique tribes. “There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to Indian country,” the office said.

However, it concurred that better communication with tribes is warranted and said it had taken steps to make improvements by hosting in-person trainings for federal and tribal law enforcement, among other things.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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