Buhl tapped to coordinate MMIP task force
Newly selected Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons coordinator Patti Buhl, left, discusses her new role with U.S. Attorney Trent Shores in his office. Buhl, a Cherokee Nation citizen, is a 25-year law enforcement veteran. KERI THORNTON/TAHLEQUAH DAILY PRESS
TAHELQUAH – Northeastern State University’s former police chief has been tapped as coordinator for Oklahoma’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons task force.
Cherokee Nation citizen Patti Buhl, a 25-year law enforcement veteran, said she will use those experiences in her new role.
“I was a tribal police officer, and we worked with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and different federal agencies. When you’re in that role, you worked collaboratively with those organizations,” said Buhl. “In my role as an investigator for the state agency, we worked some cases collaboratively with federal agencies. So I have an understanding of how the federal system works, and I’ve made a lot of contacts throughout the years with the federal system.”
The U.S. Department of Justice launched the MMIP program to address missing and murdered Native Americans in 2019. The DOJ made an investment of $1.5 million to hire MMIP coordinators for 11 states. Other states receiving MMIP coordinators are Alaska, Arizona, Minnesota, Montana, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Utah.
“The joint MMIP coordinator will maximize the collaborative efforts of the three Oklahoma U.S. Attorney’s Offices as we work toward our common goal of ensuring appropriate response to missing and murdered Indigenous people in Oklahoma,” said Brian Kuester, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma.
Buhl’s first day in her new role was June 8, and she was eager to get a better understanding of the scope of the specific problem. “Anytime you look at statistics as it relates to missing and murdered Indigenous persons – depending on what resource you read – the statistics will be different,” said Buhl. “That tells us there’s a problem with the statistics. We don’t have a clear understanding of the scope of the problem and this is definitely one of my goals.”
Buhl will support investigations into missing and murdered persons, and coordinate with local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement in the development of investigative protocols and procedures for responding to MMIP cases. Trent Shores, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, described Buhl as a tenacious investigator and said that was one of the reasons they chose her.
“This will not be an easy job, and no one has never done this particular job before. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication,” said Shores. “Patti is the kind of person who will keep pushing until she finds the truth, and I think that is the kind of personality we need to confront this issue and find solutions.”
Shores said there has been a large number of violent crimes against women and child for too long, so this isn’t a new problem. The MMIP coordinators will provide extensive information of not only existing resources, but new ones, too.
“There is a specialized unit at finding missing persons and they historically focus on children. However, speaking with the FBI, they agreed they will make that unit available for MMIP investigations, if requested,” said Shores. “This is a new resource that is available so that when people are reported missing, we can immediately jump in with extra resources to help find them.”
Buhl served with the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service, where she was involved with the 14-county jurisdictional boundaries of the tribe. She said her work with CN gave her a head start in developing the personal and professional relationship with tribal leaders and citizens.
“I’m extremely excited about this opportunity. It is brand new, so to me, it is exciting. We can develop it the way it needs to be developed and I’m excited to get back to Indian Country,” said Buhl. “Indian Country has given a lot to me, so I’ve very excited to be giving back to Indian Country in this role.”
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