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In Arizona, only about 1 in 3 murders of Native Americans get disclosed in FBI crime report

By: - May 6, 2019 12:24 pm

Photo by Tony Webster | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

A study released by a non-profit that examines unsolved murders has found that half of all Native American deaths in the U.S. go unreported to the FBI. In Arizona, only about one in three murders of Native Americans is reported to the FBI, the second-worst rate in the nation.

The Murder Accountability Project, also called MAP, is a nonprofit that examine available data on murders to gain a better understanding of how people are murdered in the United States.

Its most recent project found that nearly half of all Native American homicides committed between 1999 and 2017 were not reported to the FBI.

Of all the racial groups examined, Native Americans were the least likely to have their murders be reported to the federal Supplementary Homicide Report, which helps make up the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report.

MAP researchers reached its conclusion by comparing two different datasets.

Researchers looked at homicides reported to the Center for Disease Control by medical authorities, such as medical examiners, doctors and other health professionals, and compared it to the FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports.

What they found was that there are at least 2,406 murders that were not reported to the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report.

In a press release, MAP said it met with the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs and other members of the Interior Department to discuss its findings. The Interior Department did not respond to a request for comment from the Arizona Mirror.

Arizona’s Navajo County was found to have one of the highest disparities, followed by McKinely County in New Mexico. The two counties include large portions of the Navajo Nation, the largest reservation in the United States.

Arizona law enforcement only reported about a third of the murders to the FBI that medical authorities reported to the CDC, according to MAP.

Between 1999 and 2017, the CDC reported 953 murders of Native Americans, but the FBI report only includes 358, meaning that only 37 percent of Native American murders in Arizona were reported to the FBI.

Only New Mexico had a worse discrepancy between the FBI and CDC data, MAP found.

Six Arizona counties are in the top ten for highest Native American homicide rates in the nation, with Maricopa County taking ranking second, behind Robeson County in North Carolina.

MAP also found that 11 tribal police agencies began reporting homicides for the first time starting in 2015.

In Arizona, one possible reason for disparities in reporting could come from how ethnicity is determined after a person dies.

Ethnicity is selected by the family and is usually done alongside a funeral home when completing a death certificate. This means that most medical examiners in the state do not determine ethnicity.

For example, Pima County, which is home to nearly 65,000 residents who claim to be Native American, does not have a single page on its annual medical examiner’s report dedicated to race.

An Arizona Mirror analysis of data made public on MAP’s website found that more than 25 percent of all Native American women deaths go unsolved.

However, despite MAP’s dataset being the most complete collection of murders in the United States, it does have flaws. All this data is based on FBI crime data, which is voluntarily submitted by departments and has been found to have large errors, so it is unclear what the real numbers of unsolved murdered or missing Idigenous women cases are in Arizona.

A bill aimed at shining a light on cases of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls, often referred to as MMIWG cases, won unanimous approval in the Arizona Senate recently.

House Bill 2570, introduced by Rep. Jennifer Jermaine, D-Chandler, would create a committee to study murders of indigenous women and girls and would submit a detailed report later this year to the governor and state legislators.

The bill faces a final vote in the House of Representatives before it reaches Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.