Community holds hearing on law enforcement

Sararesa Hopkins
3/31/08

Salt River president: ;We need to equip our police officers'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Speaking at a March 17 Senate Committee on Indian Affairs field hearing on law enforcement in Indian country, Salt River Indian Community President Diane Enos urged Congress to restore criminal jurisdiction on a government-to-government basis.

Committee chairman Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., along with their staff, attended the hearing, held at the Salt River Community Building. The field hearing was the first to be organized in the community and the committee's fourth such hearing overall.

More than 50 people representing different Native communities and organizations packed the room to hear testimony from Enos, Navajo Nation Public Safety Division Director Sampson Cowboy, and Colorado River Indian Tribes Vice Chairman Eldred Enas.

Others providing testimony regarding law and order in Indian country included Arizona U.S. Attorney Diane Humetewa, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and Parker Chief of Police Rod Mendoza.

''The Adam Walsh [Child Protection and Safety] Act and the Violence Against Women Act both recognized tribal involvement and mandates tribes to comply with certain requirements, such as maintaining a sex offender registry of all offenders; yet tribes do not have the authority to arrest or detain non-Indians,'' Enos said, referring to a prepared statement.

Currently, not all tribes have access to the National Crime Information Center, which was established in 1967 after the FBI recognized that law enforcement officers all over the country had a critical need for instant access to criminal date, according to Enos.

By 1971, all 50 states were connected to the NCIC, which operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is available to federal, state and local law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies.

While the Salt River Police Department has access to the NCIC, not all tribal law enforcement agencies do.

''We need to equip our police officers with the necessary laws, tools and protection to do their job protecting our Salt River Indian Community members,'' Enos said.

She shared crime statistics with Dorgan and Kyl in an effort to give them an idea of law enforcement in the SRIC.

She said that in 2006, there were 55 drive-by shootings in the SRIC and 29 in 2007, in which eight arrests were made and two cases involved serious injuries.

''So far this year, we've had 12 drive-by shootings, and one walk-shooting occurred where the suspect was apprehended,'' Enos said, adding that in February 2008, a total of six drive-by shootings occurred within one hour on a Sunday morning.

''Fortunately, there were no fatal injuries,'' she said. ''On this same day, two shots were fired at our police officers. Some of the firearms confiscated from the drive-by shooting include high-powered rifles, AK47, SKS, shotguns and pistols. Currently, there are no laws making drive-by shooting a federal crime.''

Enas said, ''It is evident the BIA is failing in its fiduciary and other obligations to CRIT.''

He said the shortfall in law enforcement and detention funding exposes CRIT to serious problems such as a diminished public safety presence on the reservation.

''Moreover, even when the BIA assumes responsibility for programs, such as juvenile detention, it even fails to follow through,'' he said. ''Congress should work to ensure adequate funding for Indian country law enforcement and improved responsiveness of the BIA to the needs of tribal programs.''

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