September 22, 2022

Cortez Masto Introduces Bicameral Bill to Strengthen Tribal Law Enforcement, Protect Public Safety in Indian Country

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Representative Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.-7) led Tom Cole (R-Okla.-4), Sharice Davids (D-Kansas-3), and Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.-3) in introducing bipartisan, bicameral legislation to strengthen Tribal law enforcement and increase public safety in Indian Country. The Bridging Agency Data Gaps & Ensuring Safety (BADGES) for Native Communities Act would address federal inefficiencies that hurt Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement recruitment and retention, increase the effectiveness of federal missing persons resources, and give Tribes and states resources to combat the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The BADGES for Native Communities Act is part of a comprehensive group of bills Cortez Masto has championed to support Native Americans in the Senate. She passed the bipartisan Not Invisible Act and Savanna’s Act to help address the epidemic of missing, murdered, and trafficked Indigenous women and has repeatedly advocated for additional federal funding to help Tribal communities combat violence.

“For too long, Indian Country has experienced barriers to justice because law enforcement agencies don’t have what they need,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “That’s unacceptable, and this bill will help support law enforcement and make sure that crimes can be prosecuted and offenders brought to justice.”

“The federal government has for years failed to provide Indian Country the resources needed to ensure public safety and support Tribal law enforcement agencies,” said Representative Gallego. “In the aftermath of the Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta decision, finding solutions that support Tribal justice systems is more important than ever. That’s why I am proud to lead the BADGES for Native Communities Act to address unmet public safety needs in Indian Country, improve Tribal, federal, and state data sharing and communication in Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons cases, and improve recruitment and retention of Tribal law enforcement officers to protect tribal communities. I look forward to getting this bipartisan bill signed into law.” 

“Although we have made strides in the right direction in response to the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, more can still be done,” said Representative Tom Cole, Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus and member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. “Far too often, tribal members suffer the consequences of inadequate law enforcement staffing, resources and coordination among agencies. Moreover, many states and tribal governments do not have programs or resource centers in place that effectively document and track missing persons cases. I am proud to join my colleagues in reintroducing this legislation that addresses these barriers and aims to make Native American communities safer by streamlining federal criminal database coordination and collecting essential information relating to law enforcement needs.”

“Improving coordination between federal, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies is vital to addressing critical data gaps and increasing public safety of all tribal populations. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the BADGES Act, which will help remove barriers that stand in the way of addressing violence against tribal communities,” said Representative Sharice Davids.

“Central Washington tribal communities are, unfortunately, at the center of the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women, and that is unacceptable,” said Representative Newhouse. “The federal government needs to play an important role in helping our tribal communities, and The BADGES for Native Communities Act does just that. It will provide tribes and tribal law enforcement access to federal resources and criminal databases so they can effectively and quickly investigate these tragic cases. This legislation builds off my efforts to increase resources for our tribal law enforcement officers, further strengthening our tribal communities’ ability to enforce public safety and helping improve public safety for all our communities. In turn, this legislation will also provide assistance for tribes to address MMIW cases, prevent future cases, and deliver justice to the families of victims. I am committed to delivering assistance for our native communities and I look forward to this legislation being signed into law.”

The BADGES for Native Communities Act includes provisions to do the following:

  • Increase Tribal access to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) by requiring Tribal facilitators to conduct ongoing Tribal outreach and serve as a point of contact for Tribes and law enforcement agencies, as well as conduct training and information gathering to improve the resolution of missing persons cases.
  • Require a report on Tribal law enforcement needs, including staffing, replacement and repairs for corrections facilities, infrastructure and capital for tribal police and court facilities, and emergency communication technology.
  • Allow the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to conduct its own background checks for law enforcement officer applicants in order to improve officer recruitment.
  • Establish grant program to support states, Tribes, and Tribal organizations in the coordination of efforts related to missing and murdered persons cases and sexual assault cases.
  • Evaluate federal law enforcement evidence collection, handling, and processing crucial to securing conviction of violent offenders.
  • Ensure BIA officers and Tribal police have access to culturally appropriate mental health and wellness programs.

This legislation is endorsed by the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, the Seattle Indian Health Board, Amnesty International, National Council of Urban Indian Health, and National Congress of American Indians.

Senator Cortez Masto is one of the strongest champions for Native American communities in the Senate. In 2020, she passed the bipartisan Not Invisible Act and Savanna’s Act to help address the epidemic of missing, murdered, and trafficked Indigenous women. She has repeatedly called on the administration to do more to address the epidemic of violence against Native women and girls, including securing federal funding to protect Native communities, urging the administration to draft a plan to address this issue, and requesting the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate the federal response to this crisis. In addition, she is a longtime advocate for law enforcement. She secured historic funding for the Byrne JAG grant program in the FY2022 omnibus. The program is the leading source of criminal justice funding for state, local, and Tribal governments and provides support for programs related to crime prevention, law enforcement, prosecution, corrections, and mental and behavioral health. Her bipartisan bills to combat the crisis of law enforcement suicide and provide mental health resources to police officers were both signed into law. Her bipartisan Invest to Protect Act, to provide $250 million over the next five years to support small law enforcement agencies across the country so they can invest in training, mental health support, and recruitment and retention, passed the Senate in July.