A bill that would create a study committee to examine cases of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls won unanimous approval in the Arizona House of Representatives on Thursday and will now head to the Governor’s desk.
House Bill 2570, introduced by Rep. Jennifer Jermaine, D-Chandler, would create a committee to study murders of indigenous women and girls, often referred to as MMIWG cases. Under the bill, the committee would submit a detailed report later this year to the governor and state legislators.
Jermaine thanked legislators from both sides of the aisle who assisted in getting the bill passed before voting for HB2570.
If the bill becomes law, the committee will consist of chairpersons of the House of Representatives and the Senate’s Indigenous Peoples Caucus, the attorney general or a designee, the director of the Department of Public Safety or their designee, a sheriff and county attorney from each county, one tribal representative, one victims’ advocate, one tribal chief of police, one peace officer from a reservation, a social worker and others who work with Native American communities.
After the bill received unanimous approval, members of the House and the audience stood and applauded.
An Arizona Mirror analysis of the sparse publicly available data on MMIWG cases found that more than 25 percent of murders involving idigenous women in Arizona go unsolved.
Additionally, the Murder Accountability Project found that one in three murders of Native Americans in Arizona go unreported to the FBI.
There are major issues with data that makes it difficult to track MMIWG cases, something the study committee would seek to address.
As researchers with the Urban Indian Health Institute pointed out in a study last year, many agencies that report crime data to the FBI are not doing so properly. The Santa Fe Police Department told UIHI researchers last year that they could not separate Native women within its own data sets.
Additionally, race is generally not determined by the medical examiner’s office and is determined by whoever is issuing the death certificate.
It’s unclear what are the exact limitations of the data for Arizona.
All current data is based on FBI crime data, which is voluntarily submitted by departments and has been found to have flaws. As a result, it is unclear what the real number of unsolved MMIWG cases is in Arizona.
The Ak-Chin Tribal Police reported only a single homicide in the FBI records, and it remains unsolved. The Tohono O’odham Police reported 33 murders from 2006 to 2016, but solved only 2 of them, the data show. The Fort Apache Police Agency reported 91 homicides from 2006 to 2016 and solved only one.