U.S. Justice and Interior Departments are giving many more tribes direct access to national crime databases. “Information is really the coin of the realm these days,” said Trent Shores, a U.S. Attorney in Oklahoma and Choctaw Nation citizen.
Last year, Suquamish, Wa., police detective Mark Williams learned the nickname of a suspect in a kidnapping of a man in his 90s and needed to find the suspect’s real name and address. With the help of a Justice Department program that connects Native American tribes to national crime databases, Williams linked the nickname with a full name, an address, and a vehicle registration, reports NPR. That led to an hours-long standoff at a residence, but eventually the elderly man walked out of the home and into the arms of a trusted friend; his kidnapper faced prosecution in the tribal justice system and served jail time. This week, the U.S. Justice and Interior Departments are expanding the program that helped Williams, doubling the access to cover 72 tribes, with more on the way.
“Information is really the coin of the realm these days,” said Trent Shores, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, and a citizen of the Choctaw Nation. “Information access is key for tribal law enforcement so that when they engage with subjects, so that when they arrest individuals and book them, they can be aware of who these people are, what their criminal histories are. It’s going to promote tribal safety.” The program covers several real-world situations: assisting with registration of sex offenders; identifying human remains; locating endangered and missing people; arming tribal law enforcement with information about people they encounter in traffic stops; and conducting background checks to vet foster parents. Without the Tribal Access Program, tribal law enforcement can be forced to rely on state officials to gain access to crime information databases.