Tribal Court Clearinghouse          

Tribal Law Enforcement

First Tribe-Specific Crime Statistics released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation

Some Law Enforcement Facts:

More than 200 police departments operate in Indian Country, serving an even larger number of tribal communities. These departments range in size from only 2 or 3 officers to more than 200 officers. The communities they serve are as small as the Grand Canyon-based Havasupai Tribe (with a population of only 600) and as large as the Navajo Nation (with a population of more than 250,000 and a land area larger than the State of Connecticut).

The most common administrative arrangement for police departments in Indian Country is organization under the auspices of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975. Also known as Public Law 93–638 (PL 93–638), this law gives tribes the opportunity to establish their own government functions by contracting with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Thus, "638ed" departments are administered by tribes under contract with the BIA’s Division of Law Enforcement Services. Typically, a 638 contract establishes the department’s organizational framework and performance standards and provides basic funding for the police function. Officers and nonsworn staff of these departments are tribal employees. Departments administered by the BIA are the second most common type of police department in Indian Country. Staff in these departments are Federal employees. For many years, patrol officers were under the line authority of the local BIA superintendent (each reservation has a BIA superintendent who oversees all or most of the BIA functions on that reservation), and criminal investigators were under the line authority of the BIA’s Division of Law Enforcement Services. Recent changes have placed line authority for patrol under the BIA’s Division of Law Enforcement Services as well. Inadequate funding is an important obstacle to good policing in Indian Country. Existing data suggest that tribes have between 55 and 75 percent of the resource base available to non-Indian communities.

According to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI):

  • Police in Indian Country function within a complicated jurisdictional net, answer to multiple authorities, operate with limited resources, and patrol some of the most desolate of territory often without assistance from partner law enforcement agencies.
  • There are only 2,380 Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal uniformed officers available to serve an estimated 1.4 million Indians covering over 56 million acres of tribal lands in the lower 48 states.
  • On tribal lands, 1.3 officers must serve every 1,000 citizens, compared to 2.9 officers per 1,000 citizens in non-Indian communities with populations under 10,000.
  • A total of at least 4,290 sworn officers are needed in Indian Country to provide the minimum level of coverage enjoyed by most communities in the United States.
  • Among the most important challenges facing these officers and departments is providing around-the-clock police coverage to their communities.
  • These departments rarely have more than one officer on duty at any time, and their officers often work without adequate backup. They are true innovators, working across numerous police and administrative functions.
  • The lessons drawn by tribes and Congress from the research on and accumulation of experience in community policing and the design of effective governing institutions in Indian Country provide the necessary starting points for tribes as they rethink policing.
  • The challenge is to create workable, nation-specific policing institutions and approaches informed by traditional customs-since they lay the best foundation for improving safety, preventing crime, and promoting the practice of effective policing in Indian Country.


Methamphetamine has become a serious problem on tribal lands. According to a 2006 Bureau of Indian Affairs survey of 96 law enforcement agencies in Indian country:

  • 74 percent said meth was biggest drug threat they faced.
  • 60 percent said meth arrests had gone up in past year.
  • 43 percent said powdered meth is highly available on their reservations.
  • 46 percent said crystal meth is highly available.
  • 64 percent said meth was responsible for an increase in domestic violence.
  • 64 percent said assault and battery had increased because of meth.
  • 57 percent said burglaries were up because of meth.
  • 48 percent said child abuse and neglect cases were up because of meth.
  • 90 percent said they want drug investigation training.
  • 75 percent said they were paying more overtime to their officers to deal with meth.
  • 16 percent said there were high rates of meth production on their reservations.
  • 69 percent said their tribes don't sponsor meth rehabilitation programs.
  • 34 percent said they have some prevention programs to address meth.
  • 19 percent said they are planning to launch meth programs.
  • 30 percent said they had a tribal drug court.
  • 56 percent said they have no program.
  • 14 percent said they were planning to create a drug court.
  • 49 percent said they were participating in an interagency task force on meth

(Source: The Desert Sun (Palm Springs, CA), August 21, 2006)

Tribal Law Enforcement (2000) presents information on the characteristics of tribally operated law enforcement agencies in the United States, including personnel, services, and functions. These selected findings include a special section on crime in Indian country. Agency data are taken from the 2000 Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies. Highlights include the following:

  • Tribally operated agencies employed 3,462 full-time personnel, including 2,303 sworn (67%) and 1,159 nonsworn (33%).
  • A majority of tribally operated agencies provided court security (56%) and search and rescue operations (53%).
  • Thirty-seven percent of tribally operated agencies had at least one full-time sworn school resource officer.

The National Congress of American Indians lists Tribal Law Enforcement Agreements between various state and Tribal governments.

BJA Toll Free Number

To increase customer service to the field, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) has established a toll free number. In the future, simply call (866) 859-2687 to speak with a BJA assistant.


  • Improving Criminal History Records in Indian Country, 2004-2006 describes the achievements of the Tribal Criminal History Records Improvement Program (T-CHRIP) which provides grants to federally recognized tribes to improve data sharing across tribal, state and national criminal records systems.
  • Revitalizing Communities: Innovative State and Local Programs documents a variety of initiatives, including several among Native American tribal communities, that focus on preventing crime and its consequences through community revitalization. Among the problems targeted by these programs are neighborhood blight, drug trafficking, and related crime, as well as inappropriate or ineffective jail sentences for nonviolent offenders. Of particular concern is a significant population of youth at risk for dropout, delinquency, and violent crime.
  • Census of Tribal Justice Agencies in Indian Country, 2002 presents detailed information gathered on tribal law enforcement agencies, tribal courts and services, and criminal record systems from the 2002 Census of Tribal Justice Agencies in American Indian Jurisdictions. This project represents one of several components of BJS' on-going program to improve justice statistics and criminal history record information systems in Indian country. The report includes data on the number of law enforcement agencies and officers; characteristics of tribal courts and their caseloads; types of available criminal sanctions; and criminal justice statistics data collection and sharing capacity. The census collected data from nearly 350 tribes in the continental U.S. and is the first comprehensive effort to identify the range of justice agencies operating in tribal jurisdictions, the services those agencies provide, and the types of information systems maintained.
  • Victim Rights in Indian Country - an Assistant United States Attorney Perspective, by Christopher Chaney, discusses the implications of various laws and prosecution principles and how they affect cases. There are jurisdictional principles that govern Indian country criminal prosecutions. For example, the Major Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. § 1153) and the Indian Country General Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. § 1152) provide the jurisdictional basis for most federal prosecutions of criminal offenses which occur in Indian country (18 U.S.C. § 1151). There are evidentiary principles and constitutional principles that govern all federal criminal prosecutions. In addition to all of this, there are established principles which apply when dealing with victims and witnesses of federal crime.
  • Promising Practices for Improving Safety in Indian Country 2006 records the legislative, programmatic, law enforcement and courts promising practices that are making life safer for Indian people all around the United States. Contact information for the leaders who have developed or who manage these efforts are included in the hope that these programs can be shared and implemented in many other locations around the country. The programs cited in this report make it clear that significant progress, both in program innovation and law enforcement leadership, is being made in Indian country. Tribes continue to build strong partnerships between federal, state, local, and county law enforcement and justice agencies that are promoting and improving safety in Indian county.
  • Improving Safety in Indian Country: Recommendations from the IACP 2001 Summit The summit recommendations – drafted in breakout groups and then affirmed by all participants – address six issue areas in which change is necessary in order to improve safety in Indian country: 1) Jurisdictional Issues in Indian Country 2) Resources for Indian Country Law Enforcement, Justice and Program Agencies 3) Training and Education for Indian Country Law Enforcement, Justice and Program Agencies 4) Coordination and Cooperation among Indian Country Law Enforcement, Justice and Program Agencies 5) Response to Victims of Crime in Indian Country 6) Prevention Strategies to Reduce Crime.
  • Law Enforcement in Indian Country: The Struggle for a Solution, by Jonathan Mills and Kara Brown - In response to a request by the California Research Bureau, this paper outlines the legal framework governing law enforcement on Indian reservations in California and discusses various approaches to improving reservation safety. It also briefly discusses the procedure by which California could return jurisdiction over reservations to the federal government (“retrocession”).
  • Consultation with Indian Nations by American Indian Development Associates highlights successful strategies that define the unique government-to-government relationship that exists between the Indian nations and the U.S. government.
  • Indian Country Law Enforcement and the Challenges of Enforcing Underage Drinking by American Indian Development Associates provides insight into the unique challenges facing tribal law enforcement and includes a survey of relevant laws and suggested strategies for effective enforcement of underage drinking laws.
  • Sarah Deer & Melissa Tatum, Tribal Efforts to Comply with VAWA's Full Faith and Credit Requirements: A Response to Sandra Schmieder, 39 Tulsa L. R. 403 (2003).
    The Violence Against Women Act requires state and tribal governments to enforce one another's protection orders and this article explores the various problems with the cross-jurisdictional enforcement of protection orders in Indian country.
  • Indigenous Justice Systems and Tribal Justice, by Ada Pecos Melton
    Indigenous justice systems are based on a holistic philosophy. Law is a way of life, and justice is a part of the life process . . .
  • Resolving State - Tribal Jurisdictional Dilemmas, by Stanley G. Feldman and David L. Withey
    As a project of the Conference of Chief Justices is demonstrating, it is possible through communication and cooperation to minimize jurisdictional problems between state and tribal courts.
  • Policing on American Indian Reservations by Stewart Wakeling, Miriam Jorgensen and Susan Michaelson reports that crime is increasing dramatically in Indian Country, but little is known about how the unique context of Indian Country — the culture, geography, and economy, for example — affects law enforcement policies and practices. This article summarizes the findings from the authors’ exploratory report on policing on American Indian reservations.
  • Improving Safety in Indian Country: Recommendations from the IACP 2001 Summit reports that it is both critical and timely for policymakers at all levels of government (tribal, federal, state and local) to respond to Indian country’s crime and safety concerns. responding, however, it is important to remember that the problems are multi-faceted, and that the responses must be multi-faceted as well. Improving safety in the day-to-day lives of the residents of Indian country is the responsibility of a broad range of justice institutions both within and outside of Indian country – not just law enforcement officials. Improving safety necessitates the involvement of social service and public health providers, tribal and non-Indian politicians, federal and state officials, youth workers and the residents of tribal communities, among others.
  • Youth Gangs in Indian Country describes the nature and makeup of youth gangs in Indian Country by drawing on research findings from a survey conducted by the National Youth Gang Center (NYGC). This Bulletin presents data regarding the presence and effect of youth gang activity in Indian Country and provides an overview of programmatic responses to the problem. To better understand the gang problem in Indian Country, the Bulletin compares data from NYGC’s 2000 Survey of Youth Gangs in Indian Country with data from a national sample of survey respondents and from a field study of gangs in the Navajo Nation. Drawing on these research findings, the Bulletin proposes proven prevention, intervention, and suppression strategies to address the problem of youth gangs in Indian Country.
  • Protecting Victims of Domestic Violence: A Law Enforcement Officer's Guide to Enforcing Orders of Protection Nationwide was supported by a Cooperative Agreement awarded by the Violence Against Women Grants Office, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, to the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
  • From the Internet Archive Project:

Law Enforcement Agencies

The Indian Country/Special Jurisdiction Unit (IC/SJU) is responsible for developing and implementing strategies, programs, and policies to address identified crime problems in Indian Country for which the FBI has responsibility. As of 2005, there are over 560 federally recognized Indian tribes and approximately 297 Indian reservations nationwide. The ICU's responsibilities include: management of manpower resources; oversight of budgetary and resource issues; procurement of services and equipment; and the provision of assistance and training to Special Agents of the FBI, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and tribal officers to ensure that criminal investigations are performed in an effective, professional manner.

The Indian Gaming Investigations/The Indian Gaming Working Group (IGWG) was created by the FBI and National Indian Gaming Commission. The IGWG's purpose is to identify resources to address the most pressing criminal violations in the area of Indian gaming. This group consists of representatives from a variety of FBI subprograms (i.e. Economic Crimes Unit, Money Laundering Unit, LCN/Organized Crime Unit, Asian Organized Crime Unit, Public Corruption/Government Fraud Unit, Cryptographic Racketeering Analysis Unit, and Indian Country Special Jurisdiction Unit) and other federal agencies, which include Department of Interior Office of Inspector General (DOI-OIG), NIGC, Internal Revenue Service Tribal Government Section (IRS-TGS), Department of Treasure Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN), Department of Justice (DOJ), and Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Law Enforcement Services (BIA-OLES).

The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) created a series of programs to meet the needs of law enforcement in Native American communities, including:

  • Tribal Resource Grant Program (TRGP) is a broad grant program designed to meet law enforcement needs in Native American communities and villages. This program offers a wide variety of funding in areas such as hiring additional officers, law enforcement training, uniforms, basic issue equipment, emerging technologies, and police vehicles.
  • Tribal Hiring Renewal Grant Program (THRGP) is designed to assist fiscally distressed tribal governments by renewing previous COPS hiring grant positions that have been exempted from the retention requirement on recently expired COPS hiring grants. The THRGP provides 100 percent of allowable salary and benefit costs for renewed officer positions with no local funding match requirement for an additional 2 year period. This program focuses on Native American communities and villages which have limited resources, many of which are affected by high rates of crime and violence.
  • Tribal Mental Health and Community Safety Initiative (MHCSI) provides funding directly to tribal jurisdictions with established law enforcement agencies. The MHCSI offers a variety of funding options, including entry-level salaries and benefits of newly hired officers, training, uniforms, basic issue equipment, officer-related technology, and vehicles for new and existing police officers. The MHCSI was designed to expand the implementation of community policing and meet the most serious needs of law enforcement in Native American communities and villages through a broadened comprehensive program. All officers hired under the MHCSI grant program (or an equal number of veteran, locally funded officers) must serve as school resource and/or community resource officers. The MHCSI grant program is intended to strengthen the overall law enforcement infrastructure in Native American communities and villages.
  • Tribal Court Pilot Program (TCPP) funding is intended to provide assistance to address the increase in caseloads associated with increased arrests anticipated from grant funding to support tribal law enforcement. Specifically, this program funds 100 percent of the total costs to implement one or more of the following: 1) salaries and benefits to hire additional court personnel (e.g., probation officers, process servers); 2) additional training for new and existing court personnel; 3) additional technology to improve and enhance case management (e.g., computer hardware, software); and 4) any other measure that may provide a significant improvement in case management and is not otherwise funded with tribal, state, or local funds.

The BJA Law Enforcement Training Database is a catalog of all federally funded and supported training available to state and local law enforcement officials. Each database listing includes the training provider, a course description, eligibility criteria, and contact information. In addition, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) has a specialized database for Law Enforcement Training opportunities. Agencies listed in the law enforcement database may be contacted for further information. Drug court practitioners also may receive training though BJA's National Drug Court Training and Technical Assistance Program.

Tribal Justice Information Sharing System (TJISS) is a free resource for Tribal governments, communities, and organizations throughout the United States. Our goal is to empower Tribal agencies with the knowledge they need to self-access their technological strengths and weaknesses. With the information available on this Web site, Tribal agencies can better implement current information technology systems and be more informed when working with vendors. TJISS is a part of the Tribal Technology Information Outreach Program (TTISOP) of the Center for Information Technology Engineering (CITE) at the National Center for Rural Law Enforcement (NCRLE). NCRLE is a division of the Criminal Justice Institute (CJI).

Law Enforcement Organizations

The National Native American Law Enforcement Association (NNALEA) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1993 in Washington, D.C. and incorporated under the state of Delaware. The mission of the NNALEA is to promote and foster mutual cooperation between American Indian Law Enforcement Officers/Agents/Personnel, their agencies, tribes, private industry and public.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) provides training and technical assistance in the following areas: firearms interdiction, model law enforcement policies, special needs of small police departments, and antidrug activities involving illegal aliens.

The Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc., (ODMP) is a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring America's fallen law enforcement heroes, including Tribal Police Officers killed in the line of duty.

Tribal Police Departments

  1. Ak-Chin Tribal Police Department
  2. Bay Mills Indian Community Law Enforcement
  3. Chickasaw Nation Lighthorse Police Department
  4. Choctaw Nation Law Enforcement Program
  5. Citizen Potawatomi Nation Police Department
  6. Coeur d'Alene Tribal Police Department
  7. Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Law and Order Department
  8. Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation Public Safety Department
  9. Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation Tribal Police Department
  10. Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation Public Safety Department
  11. Coquille Tribal Police Department
  12. Crow Nation Public Safety Department
  13. Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Police Department
  14. Fort Oakland Police Department
  15. Gila River Community Tribal Police Department
  16. Hoopa Valley Tribal Police Department
  17. Hualapai Tribe Police Department
  18. Iowa Tribe of Nebraska Police Department
  19. Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma Police Department
  20. Keweenaw Bay Community Tribal Police Department
  21. Little River Band of Ottawa Tribal Police Department
  22. Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Law Enforcement Department
  23. Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Police Department
  24. Menominee Nation Tribal Police
  25. Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Tribal Police Department
  26. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Police Department
  27. Mohegan Tribal Police Department
  28. Mohican Nation Stockbridge-Munsee Band Division of Public Safety
  29. Narragansett Tribal Police Department
  30. Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety
  31. Nez Perce Tribal Law Enforcement Department
  32. Nooksack Tribal Law Enforcement Department
  33. Oneida Nation Police Department
  34. Pascua Yaqui Tribal Police Department
  35. Passamaquoddy Tribal Law Enforcement Department
  36. Pawnee Nation Police Department
  37. Poarch Creek Tribal Police Department
  38. Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Tribal Police Department
  39. Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribal Police Department
  40. Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Law Enforcement Program
  41. Pueblo of Cochiti Police Department
  42. Pueblo of Sandia Police Department
  43. Reno-Sparks Colony Tribal Police Department
  44. Sac and Fox Nation Department of Law Enforcement
  45. Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Police Department
  46. Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Police Department
  47. San Carlos Apache Tribal Police Department
  48. Sauk-Suiattle Tribal Public Safety Department
  49. Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa Tribal Police Department
  50. Skokomish Nation Department of Public Safety
  51. Squaxin Island Tribal Public Safety Department
  52. Swinomish Tribal Police Department
  53. Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation Police Department
  54. Tunica-Biloxi Tribal Police Department
  55. Washoe Tribal Police Department
  56. Wells Band Colony Tribal Police Department
  57. White Earth Band of Minnesota Chippewa Tribal Public Safety Department


Tribal Law and Policy Institute (TLPI) Links 

TLPI Home 
TLPI Publications
TLPI Philosophies
TLPI Projects and Services
TLPI Webinars
TLPI Staff
Request Technical Assistance
Fee For Service
Support TLPI
Contact TLPI

TLPI Websites

Walking On Common Ground
Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts
Tribal Sex Trafficking Resources
Tribal Protection Order Resources
Child Welfare Capacity Building Center for Tribes
Tribal Child Welfare Resources
Tribal Legal Studies
Tribal Law Updates
Indian Nations Conferences

TLPI Publications By Subject

Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts
Violence Against Native Women
Sexual Assault
Child Abuse and Neglect
Tribal-State Court Collaborations
Public Law 280
Juvenile Justice

TLPI Publications By Series

Legal Code Development Series
Tribal Legal Studies Textbook Series
Promising Strategies Series
Protocol Guide Series
Video Resource Series

Native Law Blogs

Tribal Law Updates
Sex Trafficking in Indian Country Update
Alaska Indigenous
Falmouth Institute/American Indian Report
ICWA Info Blog
Indian Legal Program – Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law
Legal History Blog
Legal Scholarship Blog
National Indian Law Library Blog
Native America, Discovered and Conquered
Native American Legal Update
Turtle Talk


- Top of Page -