“We’ve got a serious problem”: Tester Presses Biden Administration to Better Support Tribal Law Enforcement

Tester in Senate Appropriations Committee hearing: “What we’re seeing is what crooks do, they go wherever they can get away with committing crimes, and sometimes that’s in Indian Country”

U.S. Senator Jon Tester today questioned Biden Administration officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Indian Health Service (IHS) during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, highlighting the importance of funding Tribal law enforcement.

Tester began by pressing Bryan Newland, Assistant Secretary of the BIA, on the budget for law enforcement in Indian Country: “Many of the large land-based Tribes are bigger than states and they just have a few officers. What we’re seeing is what crooks do, they go wherever they can get away with committing crimes, and sometimes that’s in Indian Country. My question for you is, is this budget adequate to take care of the crime issues that are occurring in Indian Country?”

Tester continued to stress the consequences of underfunding Tribal law enforcement: “I’m telling you, what we’ve got right now is inadequate… We’ve got a serious problem and it needs to be fixed. People are dying because of it, and that’s not an overstatement. People are dying. Lives are being ruined.”

Tester concluded by emphasizing the importance of investing in law enforcement and health care services in Indian Country: “We’ve got to do better, and we’ve got to figure out how to do better… We need more cops on the beat. We need more doctors. We need more nurses. Otherwise these numbers are going to continue to grow. Cartels are going to continue to move into Indian Country.”

As the former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Tester has consistently fought to provide Tribal governments and organizations with the resources they need to reduce crime and tackle the MMIP epidemic. Last week, Tester led a bipartisan letter to his colleagues, urging them to support robust funding for Tribal law enforcement in upcoming appropriations. In March, Tester urged Attorney General Merrick Garland to use full force of the Department of Justice to combat the growing cartel presence and fentanyl trafficking in Tribal communities. He led the Senate passage of Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act, both of which were signed into law in October of 2020, improving information sharing and collaboration between Tribal and federal law enforcement agencies. Tester also recently secured $600 million to improve public safety in Indian Country as part of the 2024 government funding bill.