The FBI has established good communication and coordination with both tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) law enforcement agencies. As a result, agencies were working together to provide effective law enforcement in Indian country. However, accurate crime statistics were not available.

Pursuant to 18 USC 1152, 1153, the federal government has jurisdiction over most felony and some misdemeanor violations in Indian country (See Appendix II, beginning on page 33 for a full discussion on criminal jurisdiction in Indian country). As a result, the FBI is, in part, responsible for conducting investigations of felonies and some misdemeanor offenses in Indian country. The responsibility for investigating felony and misdemeanor offenses also falls within the jurisdiction of tribal and BIA investigators.

The 1975 DOJ Task Force Report concluded that law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, had not always provided adequate law enforcement services in Indian country. We found that as a result of current actions taken by the FBI, law enforcement services have improved significantly. In fact, most tribal and BIA representatives at the four audit sites felt that they now have good working relationships with the FBI and that they were satisfied with investigative services provided by the FBI. One area that still needs improvement is the gathering and reporting of accurate statistics on crimes committed in Indian country.

The actions taken by the FBI to improve law enforcement services in Indian country were in the areas of: (1) coordination and communication, (2) training and cultural awareness, and (3) timeliness of investigations.

Coordination and Communication

As stated above, responsibility for investigating most felony offenses in Indian country falls within the overlapping jurisdiction of tribal investigators, BIA, and the FBI. Historically, there had been no clear division of responsibilities. This often resulted in delays of criminal investigations because of jurisdictional disputes, and wasted resources because investigative work was often duplicated. We found that actions have been taken to address these concerns.

In November 1993, the Attorney General signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Secretary, Department of Interior, which provided a basis for effective coordination and communication between the FBI and BIA. The MOU also established a means for resolving jurisdictional disputes. The following general provisions were included in the MOU.

The U.S. Attorney in each district is responsible for developing local written guidelines that outline the responsibilities of BIA, FBI, and tribal police for conducting criminal investigations.

If either FBI or BIA declines to investigate a case that is within the jurisdiction of both agencies, the other agency must be notified in a timely manner.

Jurisdictional disputes that cannot be resolved at the field level will be resolved by the headquarters of each agency.

The U.S. Attorneys at two of the four audit sites had already developed investigative guidelines designating investigative responsibility for specific crimes in Indian country within their district. At the other two sites, FBI agents, BIA, and tribal investigators stated that communication and coordination between the agencies was just as effective as investigative guidelines. Also, since each agency has limited investigative resources, they found that it was important to coordinate investigations.

In September 1994, BIA, FBI, and several USAOs held a joint forum to address and resolve law enforcement issues in Indian country. The joint forum was a 2-part process, the second phase of which took place in April 1995. The joint forum was intended to reduce the problem of "turf battles" between the law enforcement agencies in Indian country and to decrease duplication of investigative efforts. Immediate and long term training needs were also discussed at the joint forum. Representatives from BIA and FBI headquarters stated that the joint forum benefitted both agencies and further improved their working relationship.

Actions taken by local FBI offices have also improved coordination and communication in Indian country. For example, in Oklahoma, Oregon, and South Dakota, the FBI, BIA, and tribal investigators stated that the FBI encourages conducting investigations jointly. This has resulted in the development of good working relationships between law enforcement agencies. In addition, these sites have achieved the following:

Tribal and BIA investigators, and FBI agents have established good working relationships, which facilitate coordination and communication.

Tribal and BIA investigators receive on the job training while working with FBI agents.

The FBI agents learn about the Native American cultures while working with tribal investigators and then are able to apply this knowledge when conducting investigations.

Use of limited resources is maximized.

Duplicative investigative efforts are reduced.

The extent of joint investigations varies depending on location and preference of tribal and BIA investigators. Tribal and FBI representatives at the Warm Springs Reservation, Oregon, stated that the agencies work together on most investigations. The FBI agents and tribal investigators at the Pine Ridge Reservation conduct investigative work jointly when possible. In the Eastern District of Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service conducts the majority of criminal investigations; however, the FBI provides assistance upon request.

In Arizona, the FBI, USAO, and the Navajo Department of Public Safety participate in the Operation Safe Trails program. Operation Safe Trails is an FBI-funded violent crime task force comprised of 12 Navajo investigators and 5 FBI agents. The purpose of the task force is to conduct joint investigations of crimes on the Navajo Reservation. Operation Safe Trails, by conducting joint investigations, has obtained the same benefits noted above for the other three sites. In addition, the funding for the program allows the FBI to provide the Navajo investigators with training at the FBI National Academy, as well as other formal training locally. The funding has also enabled the FBI to provide four-wheel drive vehicles, cellular phones, fax machines, and other equipment for use by the task force members.

Subsequent to our audit work in Arizona, Operation Safe Trails programs were implemented at four additional sites: Navajo Reservation, Utah; Navajo Reservation, New Mexico; Uintah and Ouray Reservation, Utah; and White River Reservation, Arizona. The FBI was in the process of implementing the program at additional locations.

Other actions taken by the FBI to improve coordination and communication include:

attending regularly scheduled monthly meetings between the Ogalala Sioux investigators and several Assistant U.S. Attorneys in South Dakota to discuss the status of current cases; and

ensuring, often in writing, that BIA and tribal officials are informed timely of prosecution and declination decisions by the USAOs.

To substantiate the assertions made by the FBI, BIA, and tribal representatives interviewed, we reviewed a sample of 58 criminal cases. Our analysis of the 58 cases revealed that 46 were investigated by the FBI or jointly with BIA and tribal investigators, and 12 cases were investigated solely by either BIA or tribal investigators. Our case review found no evidence of delays because of jurisdictional disputes, and we did not find any duplication of investigative work between agencies.

In conclusion, actions taken by the FBI have: (1) improved communication and coordination between the three law enforcement agencies in Indian country, (2) promoted positive relationships between agencies, and (3) helped to limit jurisdictional concerns. Investigative guidelines established by two U.S. Attorneys at the four audit sites also addressed jurisdictional concerns. As a result, problems of the past such as delays of criminal investigations because of jurisdictional disputes, and wasted resources because investigative work was often duplicated, have been significantly reduced.

Training and Cultural Awareness

The 1975 DOJ Task Force Report found that BIA and tribal police forces were inadequately trained. As a result, most USAOs would not base prosecution decisions on investigations conducted solely by BIA or tribal investigators. The USAOs often required the FBI to conduct an independent investigation. This created a duplication of investigative work and wasted resources. The results of our audit indicate that training efforts by the FBI have enhanced overall law enforcement activities in Indian country.

At the four audit sites, the FBI provided on the job training through joint investigations to tribal and BIA investigators. In addition, the FBI provided training at the National Academy and local in-service training on the reservations. The FBI offers formal training on report writing, criminal law, and conducting investigations. Tribes also frequently send officers to the BIA-funded Indian Police Academy, located at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico, for basic training.

As a result of the BIA and FBI joint forum (see page 6), for FY 1996 the FBI agreed to request $1.125 million from the Violent Crime Reduction Trust Fund for law enforcement training in Indian country. The training will be provided to BIA and tribal police officers, and FBI agents, at approximately 20 regional sites. Information provided at the training sessions will include crime scene and sexual abuse investigative procedures, interview techniques, federal legal procedures, and FBI administrative procedures.

The FBI's role in Indian country differs from its traditional responsibilities. In Indian country, the FBI often investigates crimes normally handled by state and local police departments. Examples of these types of crimes are rape, child physical and sexual abuse, homicide, and assault. In the past, tribal and BIA officials felt that FBI agents were not adequately prepared to investigate the types of crimes they are responsible for in Indian country. The FBI has taken actions to address these concerns through training and other programs, especially in the area of child physical and sexual abuse. In 1994, the FBI and BIA conducted five child abuse clinics to provide training on these types of crimes. In April 1995, the FBI agents in South Dakota were provided with formal training on areas specifically related to Indian country investigations.

The FBI has also been involved in the establishment of Multi-Disciplinary Teams in Indian country to address child sexual abuse. Multi-Disciplinary Teams are composed of an FBI agent, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, a social worker, and a doctor or nurse, all of whom work together on child sexual abuse cases from start to finish. Often the teams include representatives from the local tribes to deal with cultural concerns. The concept behind Multi-Disciplinary Teams is to ensure the successful and timely prosecution of child sexual abuse offenders, while at the same time addressing the child's welfare. Multi-Disciplinary Teams have been established at each of the four audit sites.

Representatives from USAOs, BIA, and the tribes stated that — in the past — FBI agents did not demonstrate cultural sensitivity towards the tribes where they were working. As a result, investigations were hindered because victims and witnesses would not cooperate with the FBI agents. We found that through joint investigations the FBI agents at the four audit sites now have a better understanding of the Native American cultures. Tribal representatives at the four audit sites also stated that the current FBI agents have demonstrated greater sensitivity while conducting investigations. As an example, one of the agents we interviewed has learned some of the local customs and language and uses this knowledge to facilitate interviews with traditional witnesses.

Overall, the FBI has made an effort to provide adequate law enforcement training to BIA and tribal investigators. The FBI, itself, has made an effort to learn itself about the uniqueness of law enforcement in Indian Country. Tribal representatives stated that greater sensitivity has been demonstrated in investigative efforts.

Timeliness of Indian Country Investigations

Representatives from BIA headquarters stated that, in the past, the FBI agents did not conduct timely investigations of crimes in Indian country. For example, one BIA criminal investigator in Colorado stated that he often waited up to 3 days for FBI agents to begin a criminal investigation. Crime scenes were often destroyed by the time the FBI agents arrived. The same BIA criminal investigator also stated that the FBI agents he is currently working with conduct timely investigations.

Providing timely law enforcement services in Indian country is difficult because Indian lands encompass large geographic areas with sparse and scattered populations. It is still not uncommon for several hours to elapse before law enforcement officials, including FBI agents, arrive to conduct an investigation. Nonetheless, tribal and BIA officials stated that currently the FBI responds as quickly as possible, under the circumstances, to reported crimes. The FBI agents at the four audit sites have taken action to minimize the time taken to respond to crimes committed in Indian country. The FBI agents at the four audit sites stated that they make frequent visits to the tribal police departments and spend several hours at the police stations, so that they are available if a crime occurs. The FBI agents also stated that they often provided home, cellular telephone, and pager numbers to BIA and tribal law enforcement officials so that they could be easily reached in an emergency. Tribal and BIA officials interviewed supported these statements.

We reviewed a sample of 45 criminal investigations conducted by the FBI in Indian country. Our review showed that the FBI initiated an investigation on the same day or within one day after the crime was committed for all but seven cases. Of those seven cases, the information provided by the tribal police did not include the date the crime was committed for five cases, and the crime was not reported to the FBI until 3 to 18 months after the crime was committed for two cases.

Our results indicate that the FBI has addressed Indian country cases in a timely manner, indicating a strong level of priority. Furthermore, efforts have been made to provide resources in order to limit the logistical difficulties associated with law enforcement in the remote areas where many reservations are located.

Crime Statistics

One law enforcement area that still needs improvement is the gathering and reporting of accurate statistics on crimes committed in Indian country. The lack of reliable crime statistics in Indian country limits the opportunities for law enforcement agencies to effectively allocate resources and measure advantages and disadvantages of law enforcement approaches. Several factors unique to Indian country impede the gathering of accurate crime statistics.

The tribal law enforcement agency is usually the first agency contacted when a crime is committed and, therefore, should have the most accurate listing of reported crimes. Unfortunately, at the four audit sites, none of the tribal police departments were computerized. As a result, they did not keep crime statistics because gathering these statistics manually was very time consuming. Tribal officials interviewed also indicated that most tribal police departments are not computerized and do not keep statistics on crime.

The FBI and BIA only keep statistics on the crimes they investigate. However, it is not possible to combine the statistics kept by the agencies to establish a universe of reported crimes in Indian country for two reasons. First, many tribes have replaced BIA investigators with their own investigators. As a result, BIA's crime statistics only include tribes for which they provide law enforcement services. Second, joint investigations may be reported by more than one agency.

Without accurate statistics on crime, we could not identify trends in criminal activity, which might be of benefit to the FBI for effectively allocating resources and measuring effectiveness of activities in Indian country. State and local law enforcement agencies report crimes to the FBI under the Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Using this information, the FBI annually prepares the Uniform Crime Report which summarizes crime by type and location. Law enforcement agencies should be encouraged to utilize this existing program to report to the FBI crimes committed in Indian country.


In our judgment, the FBI has taken action to correct many of the past problems associated with law enforcement services it provides to Native Americans. The FBI has established good communication and coordination with both tribal and BIA law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement agencies now work together to provide effective services in Indian country. Jurisdictional disputes that often delayed investigations are avoided, and resources are used more efficiently.

The FBI has increased its investigative efforts in Indian country, and also responds to requests for assistance from other law enforcement agencies. As a result, most tribal and BIA representatives at the four audit sites felt that they now have good working relationships with the FBI and that they were satisfied with investigative services provided by the FBI. However, accurate crime statistics are not available for Indian country.


We recommend that the Director, FBI:

1. Encourage law enforcement agencies, regardless of investigative jurisdiction, to report crimes committed in Indian country to the FBI, for inclusion in the Uniform Crime Report.

Resolved. To close this recommendation, the FBI must provide documentation supporting actions taken to encourage law enforcement agencies to report crimes committed in Indian country.