Federally-recognized tribes across Indian Country will now be able to access national crime information databases due to the implementation of the Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information (TAP). The first phase of TAP was announced on Wednesday, Aug. 19 during the 2015 Department of Justice/FBI Criminal Justice Information Services Division Tribal Conference in Tulsa, Okla.
“Federal criminal databases hold critical information that can solve crimes, and keep police officers and communities safe,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates. ““The Tribal Access Program is a step forward to providing tribes the access they need to protect their communities, keep guns from falling into the wrong hands, assist victims and prevent domestic and sexual violence. Empowering tribal law enforcement with information strengthens public safety and is a key element in our ongoing strategy to build safe and healthy communities in Indian country. ”
TAP will support tribes in analyzing their needs for national crime information and help provide appropriate solutions, including a-state-of-the-art biometric/biographic computer workstation with capabilities to process finger and palm prints, take mugshots and submit records to national databases, as well as the ability to access CJIS systems for criminal and civil purposes through the Department of Justice. TAP will also provide specialized training and assistance for participating tribes.
“This news has been a long time coming,” said Tribal Council Chairperson Terri Henry. “Tribes and domestic violence advocates have been advocating for Tribal justice systems to have access to the NCIC databases for many years. Even though some tribal police departments have been able to access the federal databases through the state portal, like the Cherokee Police Department, our Tribal Court protective orders have not been able to be uploaded by our Tribal Court; we could only view protective orders.”
Hannah Smith, EBCI Attorney General, commented, “This is fantastic news for Indian Country. The EBCI ran head on into this access to information barrier as we developed the protocols for our own Child Protection and Foster Care programing. During the two year planning process with the Children’s Bureau Tribal Title IVE technical assistance group, this and many other technical obstacles were discussed and problem-solved.”
She added, “The ‘work arounds’ that EBCI designed were a bit cumbersome and largely dependent on EBCI’s cooperative state-tribal relationship. Not all tribes who want to license their own foster homes may find themselves in the same cooperative situation. It was imperative that the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Children’s Bureau recognize the technical barriers in front of tribes that opt to protect their own children through tribal licensing of tribal foster homes and those federal agencies have delivered a solution that will work for all tribes.”
Under the BIA program, social service agencies of federally recognized tribes will be able to view criminal history information accessed through BIA’s Office of Justice Services who will conduct name-based checks in situations where parents are unable to care for their children.
“Giving tribal government programs access to national crime databases through DOJ’s Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information is a tremendous step forward towards increasing public safety in Indian Country,” said Assistant Secretary Kevin K. Washburn for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior. “The Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services’ Purpose Code X program provides a much-needed tool for tribal social service agencies when they must find safe homes to place children during temporary emergency situations.”
Smith said that the EBCI will join a small number of tribes nationwide (currently less than 10) that currently have direct access to federal funding to help pay for the protection of children through tribal foster care programs. “This expansion of tribal self-determination and self-governance policy through the Children’s Bureau and the Administration for Children and Families is to be celebrated as is the response from the BIA to make it possible for tribes to have timely access to federal information databases that will help tribes keep their children safe.”
– DOJ release, One Feather staff contributed to this report