Home News Speeches Protecting Indian Country: Our Continuing Commitment
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  • James H. Burrus Jr.
  • Assistant Director, Criminal Investigative Division
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • National Congress of American Indians Annual Convention
  • Sacramento, California
  • October 05, 2006

Good morning, and thank you for that kind introduction. I am pleased to be here.

This is not the first time I have attended one of your conventions. Seven years ago, I went to your 1999 conference. At the time, I was the assistant special agent in charge of our Minneapolis office. One of my responsibilities then was our office’s Indian Country Program.

I was the Bureau’s only representative at your convention that day. But it became clear to me that an FBI presence here then and in the future was critically important. We have a unique role to play in Indian Country and doing so requires the partnerships that can be built and strengthened at events like this.

Seven years later, I get to put those thoughts into action by speaking to you today about our role in Indian Country. I very much appreciate the opportunity to meet with you.

As many of you know, the jurisdiction of the FBI in Indian Country dates back practically to the FBI’s formation.

Though our focus has turned more and more to national security matters in the last five years, this historic connection remains very important to the Bureau. We have not and we will not abandon our responsibilities in Indian Country. We remain committed to working with you now and in the future.

Today, I want to give you an overview of our Indian Country program, discuss several specific crime challenges, and look at ways we are helping strengthen your own law enforcement agencies.

The FBI has federal law enforcement responsibility on more than 200 Indian reservations. Our Indian Country Program’s mission is to develop programs and strategies to address criminal matters that fall within our jurisdiction and to support the efforts of other law enforcement personnel working in Indian Country.

Eight FBI field offices account for nearly 90 percent of all Indian Country casework for the FBI. Our priorities focus on the most serious crimes of violence, including homicide, child sexual and physical abuse, and violent assault. These priority categories account for more than 70 percent of all FBI investigations in Indian Country.

We currently have 114 special agents addressing Indian Country matters in 19 field offices. While this is a relatively small number, it represents a 10 percent increase since 2004.

However, our resources in Indian Country, given its population and size, are clearly limited. That is what makes our Safe Trails Task Forces so critical in our joint efforts to combat crime in Indian Country.

Safe Trails Task Forces bring together FBI special agents, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, tribal police departments, and state and local law enforcement agencies. By combining our efforts, we can leverage all of our resources to provide a solid foundation to address significant violent crime and complex criminal enterprise cases.

The FBI currently funds 15 Safe Trails Task Forces, which is three more than we had operating last year. In 2005 alone, the task forces obtained 204 indictments/informations, made 305 arrests, and secured 220 convictions in Indian Country cases. Through the second quarter of 2006, Safe Trails Task Forces obtained 96 indictments/informations, made 175 arrests, and secured 114 convictions.

It is this kind of partnership that we all need if we are to address the toughest crime challenges of Indian Country.

I know that many of you are concerned about the growing methamphetamine problem on your reservations. And it is a growing problem. Currently, 7.2 percent of all Indian Country cases involve drug trafficking. That is up from approximately 4 percent the year before.

There are several important initiatives underway to check the growth of this particular drug problem. For example, our Salt Lake City Division recently formed a Safe Trails Task Force to proactively identify and investigate individuals and organizations engaged in drug and violent crimes throughout North Central Montana.

The Phoenix Division is engaged in its own anti-drug initiative with the Navajo Nation to address drug trafficking and to establish a narcotics investigation capability at the tribal level. This year, FBI agents have worked side-by-side with Navajo Nation officers to develop a productive methamphetamine investigation.

The six-month investigation not only resulted in 28 arrests, but also allowed Navajo officers to receive instruction and on-the-job training in investigative techniques and informant development. Navajo officers have since advised that the expertise they acquired during the joint investigation has enabled them to conduct similar investigations on their own.

In addition to working with tribal law enforcement agencies, the FBI is participating in two federal working groups that were formed to address the methamphetamine problem in Indian Country. This fall, the working group coordinated by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy will select one or more Indian reservations as sites for meth pilot projects. The pilot projects will provide federal funding for targeted multi-agency enforcement, education, and treatment efforts.

Just as partnerships and projects like these are critical to addressing meth in Indian Country, they are just as critical to addressing child abuse.

Approximately 30 percent of all FBI Indian Country investigations involve child physical abuse, which is why, as I said, it remains a top priority for us.

We dedicate 25 percent of our FBI victims specialists to Indian Country. They provide information on victim’s rights and the criminal justice process. They also provide on-scene crisis intervention, accompany agents to interviews, arrange forensic exams, and accompany victims to court proceedings.

We do, however, face unique obstacles in investigating crimes against children in Indian Country, including remote territories and long travel distances for access to technical expertise. We have made significant progress in overcoming these obstacles in several areas.

Since 2004, the FBI has supported the Tribal Tele-Medicine initiative in South Dakota. This is a joint effort by our Minneapolis Division, Midwest Children’s Research Center, Indian Health Service, Department of Justice, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Midwest Regional Children’s Advocacy Center, and the National Children’s Alliance.

The initiative utilizes video teleconferencing capability, along with specialized audio and video equipment, to connect the examining physician in Indian Country with child abuse medical experts in an off-site location. This process not only allows expert medical evaluation of the child victim, but also minimizes trauma to the child that may result from multiple examinations and interviews. It also ensures that experienced medical and treatment personnel are available in rural and isolated communities.

The FBI also supports the Tohono O’Odham Reservation Children’s House—or TORCH—which is a joint effort among the Tohono O’Odham Nation Police Department, the FBI, and the Arizona Children’s Advocacy Center. TORCH provides the child victims of sexual and physical abuse and their families with an immediate, safe, child-friendly and culturally sensitive environment that is conducive to effective forensic interviewing.

And, in circumstances where the establishment of a permanent forensic center is not an option, the FBI partners with other organizations to seek creative solutions to problems. One example is the FBI’s use of the Childhelp Children’s Mobile Advocacy Center of Northern Arizona.

This mobile unit travels to or near the victim’s reservation to prevent the child and family from having to travel long distances to an advocacy and medical facility for interview and physical examination. By delivering this capability to the victim, the traumatic effect on the child and family is vastly reduced.

Our joint efforts on Safe Trails Task Forces, fighting meth, and responding to child abuse demonstrate how working together we can make progress addressing crime problems in Indian Country. Partnerships and initiatives like these are the foundation for future success.

But it is also important to develop the abilities of your own tribal law enforcement agencies.

Since 1997, the FBI has trained nearly 5,500 Indian Country law enforcement officers and agents. We utilize the Joint Indian Country training initiative with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to sponsor and promote training activities for Indian Country law enforcement.

In 2006, the FBI provided 30 training conferences for local, tribal, and federal investigators. Topics included gang assessment, crime scene processing, child abuse investigations, forensic interviewing of children, homicide investigations, interviewing and interrogation, officer safety and survival, and Indian gaming. Two regional drug trafficking courses were provided to Montana tribes as well.

We have scheduled 22 training conferences for 2007, which will include similar topics. We will be adding instruction in tactical training for Safe Trails Task Forces, public corruption, online exploitation of children, white-collar crime, and sophisticated investigative techniques.

Thanks to these training programs, tribal law enforcement is improving. As we build on these efforts, we will be able to further leverage the FBI’s resources to meet the needs of Indian Country.

And we are committed to meeting those needs. Our Indian Country Program may be a small part of the Bureau, but it is an important part.

The FBI’s Indian Country Program is staffed by agents and analysts dedicated to fulfilling our historic commitment to law enforcement in Indian Country. The men and women of the FBI are proud to be your partners in keeping Indian Country safe. We look forward to our continued commitment to Indian Country and continued progress in reducing crime.

Thank you.

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