U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego is one of the sponsors of the BADGES Act. Photo by Shondiin Silversmith | Arizona Mirror
Several U.S. House representatives introduced the Bridging Agency Data Gaps & Ensuring Safety (BADGES) for Native Communities Act, a bipartisan bill that hopes to strengthen tribal law enforcement and increase public safety across Indian Country.
“For years, the federal government has failed to provide tribal communities the resources needed to adequately ensure public safety and properly support Tribal law enforcement agencies,” Rep. Ruben Gallego said in a press release.
This bill is expected to change that by addressing the federal inefficiencies that impact the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ law enforcement recruitment and retention. The proposal aims to increase the effectiveness of federal missing persons resources and give resources to tribes and states to combat the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“Increasing coordination between federal, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies will improve public safety in tribal communities and help address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples,” said Rep. Sharice Davids, a co-sponsor of the bill and the co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus.
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The act has two main provisions: bridging agency data gaps and ensuring safety for Native communities.
To help bridge agency data gaps, the bill would establish one or more National Missing and Unidentified Persons System Tribal facilitators that the attorney general will appoint.
“Our people deserve improved law enforcement coordination when reporting their loved ones missing,” said Esther Lucero, president & CEO of the Seattle Indian Health Board. “By increasing resources for tribes and urban Indian organizations, the federal government upholds its responsibility to establish public safety in Indian Country.”
Some of the facilitator’s duties include developing and maintaining working relationships with Indigenous communities and organizations across Indian Country. They will also provide technical assistance and training to Indigenous communities regarding the gathering and reporting information to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
If it becomes law, the BADGES Act will work to ensure safety for Native communities in four ways. First, it will develop a demonstration program for the Bureau of Indian Affairs on their law enforcement employment background checks. It would also establish a missing and murdered response coordination grant program, and develop a GAO study on Federal law enforcement agency evidence collection, handling, and processing. Finally, it would provide the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Tribal law enforcement officers with counseling resources and interdepartmental coordination.
“Native American communities and law enforcement agencies face an uphill battle investigating cases of missing and murdered indigenous women due to lack of access to coordinated federal crime data,” Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-WA, said in a press release.
“This legislation provides critical federal resources and access to criminal databases to tribal law enforcement so they can effectively investigate these cases and help end the MMIW crisis,” Newhouse added.
Tribal leaders and organizations cheered the introduction of the bill, including Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis.
Lewis said the Gila River Indian Community supports the bill because it will help increase the safety of tribal communities in several ways. He said it would provide the data, access, and resources needed to ensure that tribes can retain law enforcement officers and that these agencies have the resources they need to keep Indigenous communities safe.
“As a sovereign nation, there is no greater obligation than the safety of our members and all those who enter our community,” Lewis said.
Access to reliable data about missing and murdered Indigenous peoples has been a significant issue in Indian Country.
In 2021, violence against Indigenous women in the U.S. was determined as a crisis in a U.S. Government Accountability Office report. But the extent of the problem remains unknown.
There is no centralized database among the thousands of federal, state and tribal entities, but there is limited data on missing and murdered Indigenous people available.
The GAO report identified four major federal databases that included some data on missing and murdered Indigenous people. The missing person data was pulled from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS) and The National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The data for murdered individuals came from the National Violent Death Reporting System and the National Incident-Based Reporting System.
“Inefficient data sharing, poor recruitment and retention of law enforcement officers, and the lack of coordination among Federal, state, Tribal, and local law enforcement agencies remain significant barriers to justice for Native women and children experiencing disproportionate levels of violence,” said Lucy R. Simpson, executive director, National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center.
Simpson said the act would help address some of the inefficiencies by supporting data systems and law enforcement coordination efforts.
The National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Larry Wright, Jr. said the bill is a meaningful step forward to ending the epidemic that is missing and murdered Indigenous peoples across the country.
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