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BIA names director of law enforcement office

LAW AND ORDER: Chris Chaney (l) is new director of the Office of Law Enforcement Services. On the right is Patrick Ragsdale, the director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Photo Courtesy BIA.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs on Monday announced the appointment of a new law enforcement director, filling a position that was vacant for more than a year.

Chris Chaney, a member of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, will run the Office of Law Enforcement Services. He replaces Robert Ecoffey, who took a voluntary reassignment in June 2004 amid controversy over the BIA's detention facilities and the high-profile murder trial of an American Indian Movement activist.

Chaney inherits the jail problems and other big issues facing law enforcement on reservations throughout the country. American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest rates of victimization in the country, according to the government statistics.

Indian women, in particular, are more likely to be victims of domestic violence than any other racial or ethnic group. Indian youth have high rates of tobacco and drug use and are more likely to commit suicide or attempt suicide.

Chaney's years of work in Indian Country will be an asset in addressing these concerns, said Pat Ragsdale, the director of the BIA. "His leadership, experience and deep commitment to Indian people will ensure the BIA delivers quality law enforcement services to the federally recognized tribes and their citizens."

Chaney comes from the Interior Department's Office of the Solicitor. Since October 2003, he has been head of the Indian affairs division, which provides legal advice to the BIA and the Office of Special Trustee.

Prior to that, Chaney spent several years at the Department of Justice. He served as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Utah, where he prosecuted violent crimes on reservations, from 1997 to 2000. He then worked with the U.S. Attorney's Office on coordinating Indian legal issues on a national level before moving to the Interior Department.

At a recent Federal Bar Association Indian law conference, Chaney discussed his experiences with law and order on reservations. Over the past 15 years, he said the Department of Justice and the FBI have increased their resources in Indian County. He also said the government, through self-determination contracts and other means, has helped tribes build their police, court and other justice system.

"However, as we saw at Red Lake," he said, referring to the March 21, 2005, tragedy on the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota, "all is not well in Indian Country when it comes to law enforcement." A teenager shot and killed nine people before turning the gun on himself that day.

Chaney said tribal law enforcement departments may not have adequate resources to deal with issues they face. Tribal authority has been limited by acts of Congress and by federal court decisions "at the expense of tribal sovereignty," he noted.

"The crime rates for many types of violent crime are two or three times, or in some cases greater, than the crime crates seen by other citizens in the U.S.," he said at the conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on April 14. "When we see crime rates that are two to three times higher than what all Americans face, there is something wrong."

At the conference, Chaney was challenged for legal advice he provided to the BIA with regard to tribal law enforcement in California. Under Public Law 280, the state exercises concurrent criminal and civil jurisdiction over crimes committed by Indians.

But in a 2004 letter cited by an attendee, Chaney said the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians couldn't seek a self-determination contract for law enforcement services. The BIA also refused to issue special law enforcement commissions to the tribe, which would help the tribe enforce federal law.

A judge rejected that stance in a July 1, 2004, decision. "What is now happening is that the federal government is indeed processing the federal cross-commissions," Chaney said in response. He said the cross-commission program gives tribes to authority to arrest non-Indians for crimes committed against Indians.

"So it's very important to the tribes," he said. He didn't speak to the self-determination contract issue but said he would talk with the attendee in private about it, and that the BIA is following the federal court decision.

Nedra Darling, a BIA spokesperson, said the position was advertised in January of this year. Filling the job took some time because it falls under the senior executive service program. "We were searching for the best qualified candidate," she said yesterday.

Before joining the federal government in 1997, Chaney worked in private practice in New Mexico, where he provided legal services to the Jicarilla Apache Nation of New Mexico and the Southern Ute Tribe of Colorado. He also worked as an administrative law judge for the Navajo Nation's housing authority.

Indian Country Jail Reports:
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