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U.S. Department of Justice issues new guidelines for missing and murdered Indigenous people cases

Department of Justice

The U.S. Department of Justice has new guidelines as part of their strategy to combat a nationwide scourge of missing and murdered Indigenous people.

They include standards on data collection, coordinating law enforcement agencies responsible for updating databases and improving law enforcement agency response rates.

Another big piece is increasing follow-up responses to missing persons cases.

The guidelines shore up blind spots that Oklahomans brought up at a federal commission meeting in Tulsa earlier this month. At that meeting, one person said local law enforcement were often dismissive when cases of missing Indigenous people hit their desks. Another said it took them 20 minutes to locate a missing individual whom law enforcement couldn’t find for 20 days.

The new guidelines are some of the earliest tangible work from the listening sessions set up by the Not Invisible Act and Savanna's Act. Both bills passed in 2020 to combat the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous People.

Bob Troester
Department of Justice
Bob Troester

"For years, Native Americans have been victimized by violent crime and mourned a murdered or missing loved one," said U.S. Attorney Bob Troester, who is the US Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma. His office announced the new guidelines.

"Addressing these issues is a top priority for my office and the Department of Justice," Troester said. "Throughout the Western District of Oklahoma, we are fortunate to have strong working relationships across law enforcement and the Tribal nations in our district. These guidelines will help us to further strengthen those relationships and coordinate efforts to better address Native Americans who are victimized by violence or have been reported missing."

In 2020, bipartisan members of the 116th United States Congress passed Savanna’s Act. The Act directed United States Attorney’s Offices to develop regionally appropriate guidelines to respond to MMIP-related cases involving American Indians and Alaska Natives.

An important guideline is to make sure that Native people are properly identified in National Missing and Unidentified Persons System ("NamUs"). The U.S. Attorney's office for the Western District said in a press statement they're working with tribal, federal and state officials to update and track MMIP cases.

Allison Herrera covered Indigenous Affairs for KOSU from April 2020 to November 2023.
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