Tribes Gain Access to National Crime Information Databases with New Federal Programs

Published: Jul 1, 2016 | Author: Katherine Ziomek, BWJP

Last fall, the Department of Justice launched the Tribal Access Program (TAP) for National Crime Information, providing federally-recognized tribes with access to national crime information databases. As a result, Tribal agencies will be able to receive federal criminal information and submit criminal records to national databases, in addition to gaining access to state-of-the-art biometric/biographic technology and specialized training via the Tribal Access Program. Moreover, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) announced that tribes will be able to view national criminal information via the new Purpose Code X Program, which will allow Tribal social service agencies to conduct name-based checks on individuals prior to making child placement decisions to ensure children are provided safe homes in temporary emergency situations.

The Tribal Access Program is being implemented in phases, with only ten tribes currently participating in the User Feedback Phase to assist in the evaluation of technical and programmatic support. Future phases will include tribes with law enforcement agencies, non-law enforcement criminal justice systems, and agencies serving only civil needs. While the program is still in the early phases of implementation, the program seems quite promising. “The Tribal Access Program will be critical in protecting native women on the Umatilla Indian Reservation by ensuring all Tribal domestic violence protection orders are entered into federal criminal databases. Currently the CTUIR (Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation) does not have this ability. My hope is that this will prove to be a program that will eventually be available to all tribes and help protect Tribal communities throughout the nation. It has been something tribes have long requested and I’m happy the CTUIR has been chosen to be among the pilot tribes.” said Brent Leonhard, a Tribal attorney with the Office of Legal Counsel for the CTUIR.

Many hope that the Tribal Access Program will help address the domestic violence issues that Native women face. American Indians are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to all other races, and one in three Indian women reports having been raped during her lifetime. Six in ten Native women will be physically assaulted and, on some reservations, the murder rate for Native women is ten times the national average . For Native women, the lethal threat a gun poses in the home of a domestic violence perpetrator is especially severe given that guns are involved in over one-third, approximately 35%, of homicides against Native women.

Although eligible tribes were granted access to national crime information databases through Congress’s enactment of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, access to national networks had been severely limited by the varying state regulations, statutes, and policies in place. By granting Tribal officials access to federal criminal databases, Tribal law enforcement will have a greater capacity to protect vulnerable individuals, particularly Native women and children at risk of domestic violence and other criminal acts. The development of the Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information and Purpose Code X Program signifies a vital step toward addressing the civil and criminal needs of tribes and improving the communication of criminal information between federal, state, local and Tribal law enforcement.

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