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DOJ seeks to open criminal databases to tribal governments

The FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division houses criminal databases that local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies -- but not tribal agencies -- can access. Photo from FBI via Wikipedia

It looks like the Department of Justice is finally moving to implement a key provision of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010.

Section 233 of the law requires DOJ to open federal criminal information databases to tribes. Last November, the FBI announced that tribes can access the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

However, the change in policy "does not address the ability of a tribe to submit information to the NICS," the FBI said in the Federal Register at the time. That appears to run counter to the language in Section 233, which states that tribes shall be allowed to "access and enter information" into the systems.

The situation could be changing soon, according to a solicitation that was first reported by GCN. DOJ requested proposals for a system that will help tribes access the criminal databases housed by the Criminal Justice Information Services.

"On many reservations, tribal governments operate at a distinct disadvantage, without access to criminal information systems available to federal law enforcement agencies and state and local governments," the solicitation, which closed last Friday, stated. "Tribal police investigations are stymied by a lack of information about criminals. They are often unable to perform the most basic checks, which would identify parole and probation violators or fugitives with active warrants."

To address the lack of access, DOJ is considering "kiosk workstations" that could be deployed in Indian Country. The system would allow tribes not only to access key information in the national databases but also to submit data to those databases, according to the solicitation.

"The system will be required to provide: a capability to process finger and palm prints, take mugshots, and submit records to national databases," the solicitation read.

Tribes have long been seeking access to the databases. The issue took on added significance earlier this year when a Tulalip Tribes of Washington was indicted for purchasing a firearm in violation of a domestic violence protection order.

Since the tribe does not have the ability to submit information directly to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a gun dealer did not find the order when it conducted a check on Raymond Lee Fryberg Jr. The man was allowed to purchase five firearms, one of which his late son used in a fatal school shooting last October.

“This problem is not a local problem or unique to the Tulalip Tribes. The issue of lack of entry of tribal protection orders in state and federal databases is a national crisis,” said Richard Blake, a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe of California who serves as the president of the board of directors for National American Indian Court Judges Association.

The National Congress of American Indians passed resolutions in 2013 and in 2014 in hopes of spurring DOJ into action.

Get the Story:
DOJ seeks to give tribal policy better access to crime databases (GCN 7/15)

Federal Register Notice:
National Instant Criminal Background Check System Regulation (November 20, 2014)

Related Stories:
Tribes seek access to criminal system in child placement cases (04/20)
Tribal courts seek greater access to state and federal systems (4/6)

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