A 15-year-old Native American boy and member of the Tulalip Tribes in Washington State killed his four classmates and himself at his school near Seattle last year. He never should have had access to his father’s gun that he used in the shooting. His father shouldn’t have even been able to purchase the gun – the Tulalip Tribal Court had issued a restraining order against him after he allegedly threatened, hit and slapped his girlfriend. But the information about the restraining order never showed up in a federal criminal database, which would have prevented him from buying the gun.
Reoccurring Problem Needs Solution
The small amount of shared criminal information between federal agencies and the nation’s Indian reservations, which are sovereign nations, has been a source of tension for decades. It has also had deadly consequences in countless cases of targeted violence on tribal lands.
I have seen firsthand the tragic consequences of targeted violence at tribal schools while I was the Special Agent in Charge of the Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center. In 2005, the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota extended an invitation for me to present findings on targeted violence after a school shooting at the Red Lake Reservation that March where 16-year-old Jeff Weise killed nine people and wounded five others before turning the gun on himself. Seven of those homicides occurred at Red Lake High School, where five students, a teacher, and a school security guard were killed. Prior to entering the school, Weise had killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s companion at their home.
Pilot Project gives Tribes Access to Criminal Databases
The Justice Department announced in early November that it has chosen 10 American Indian tribes for a pilot project in which their courts and police departments will be authorized, for the first time, to have direct access to criminal information stored in federal databases. The 10 tribes will be the first of the nation’s federally recognized 567 Indian tribes to be given training and computer equipment to obtain federal criminal records and other national data, as well as to the ability submit information, without having to rely on local and state officials.
“This innovative program will allow an unprecedented sharing of critical information between tribal, state and federal governments, information that could help solve a crime or even save someone’s life,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates. She went on to say; “People with criminal records have been known to go from reservation to reservation. Without a one-stop place for information sharing, we’re all kind of working in the blind.”
Databases Will Assist in Prevention and Investigation
The tribes will have direct access to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) which provides critically important tools to prevent acts targeted violence files such as:
- Gun File—Records on stolen, lost and recovered weapons and weapons used in the commission of crimes that are designated to expel a projectile by air, carbon dioxide, or explosive action.
- Missing Persons File—Records on individuals, including children, who have been reported missing to law enforcement
- Protection Order File—Records on individuals against whom protection orders have been issued.
- Wanted Persons File—Records on individuals (including juveniles who will be tried as adults) for whom a federal warrant or a felony or misdemeanor warrant is outstanding.
- National Sex Offender Registry File—Records on individuals who are required to register in a jurisdiction’s sex offender registry.
- National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Denied Transaction File—Records on individuals who have been determined to be “prohibited persons” according to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and were denied as a result of a NICS background check. As of August 2012, records include last six months of denied transactions; in the future, records will include all denials.
- Violent Person File—Once fully populated with data from users, this file will contain records of persons with a violent criminal history and persons who have previously threatened law enforcement.
Having direct access to federal databases will greatly enhance tribal law enforcement operations related to preventing and investigating violence and threats of violence. As we know all too well, lack of information sharing is often a key finding in failing to prevent incidents of targeted violence that have had tragic consequences in areas such as stalking, workplace violence and school shootings. I hope the pilot program is a success and can be expanded to all tribal police as soon as possible.