Some recent news coverage has focused on the rate of prosecutions declined by Federal prosecutors for crimes in Indian Country. It is a rate that can and should come down -- but one that is the result of several factors, many of which we are working to eliminate through better training of tribal law enforcement, advanced and timely forensics and empowering Tribes to bring more cases with expanded sentencing authority in Tribal courts.
Disturbingly, this recent news coverage distracts from the most important public safety metric -- more violent criminals are being prosecuted in Arizona Indian Country than ever before. This unprecedented activity by the United States Attorney's Office and our federal and tribal law enforcement partners is improving public safety in Indian Country day by day.
The bottom line is this: These efforts are paying dividends. Between 2009 and 2010, we increased the number of Indian Country cases charged by 5 percent. We are on track this year to increase the number of prosecutions by more than 10 percent.
That noted, here are some of the key steps we are taking to increase that number even more:
-- We have embarked upon a monumental training program the likes of which has never been tried before anywhere in the United States. In the last year, my prosecutors have cross-trained over 400 Arizona tribal officers in federal criminal procedures better equipping them for an assortment of investigations. This is critical. Once certified as federal law enforcement officers, tribal police can then refer cases directly to us creating a more seamless process. This certification also helps to discourage assaults against tribal officers -- if the officer is operating in a federal capacity, any assault against them is a federal offense.
-- In the last year and a half, I have implemented policies to ensure better communication and cooperation between the Assistant United States Attorneys in the office and tribal law enforcement. AUSAs meet regularly with tribal law enforcement and tribal prosecutors. Once a case is referred to our office, AUSAs are tasked with making timely charging decisions, as well as requests for further investigation or information.
-- In response to my request, last year, Attorney General Holder provided funding for five additional Federal prosecutors to work exclusively in Arizona Indian Country, the most ever awarded at one time in the history of the Department. We also successfully worked with FBI and the Arizona Department of Public Safety to greatly speed up the lab analysis of crime scene evidence in Arizona Indian Country resulting in cases being resolved faster thereby taking dangerous people off the streets quicker while protecting victims sooner.
-- Our office is also actively recruiting tribal prosecutors from several Arizona tribes to work alongside federal prosecutors in federal court in cases arising in their communities. This will help tribal officials ensure that their prosecution priorities -- whether it's domestic violence, drugs smuggling, or anything else -- are addressed. At the same time, in respect for Tribal sovereignty, we are working to ensure that Tribal courts retain authority to sentence defendants to multiple sentences for multiple offenses.
In a remote tribal community like the Navajo Nation, with roughly 320 sworn officers covering a reservation more than 22,000 square miles in three states, we recognize that we must do more to assure that victims of crime get the justice that they are entitled. That is our goal, it's a top priority, and we are making progress.
My office is committed to improving the quality of law enforcement and justice provided to members of the Indian Country communities throughout Arizona. This commitment is one that is in keeping with the Federal Government's trust responsibility for those communities. We have made great strides in improving training, communication and increasing prosecutions throughout those communities. We will not stop there. My office will continue to look for new ways to continue to improve the quality of justice provided.
Dennis K. Burke is the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona.