DOI establishes Cold Case Task Force office

BY STAFF REPORTS
08/03/2020 02:30 PM
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – On July 27, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt, presidential advisor Ivanka Trump and Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Katuk Sweeney established the first of seven offices dedicated to solving cold cases involving missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. 

According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, there are more than 1,400 unresolved American Indian and Alaska Native missing person cases in the United States. Of that, 136 cases are in Minnesota. 

To address this crisis, President Trump signed Executive Order 13898 in 2019.

“President Trump created a task force to support tribal communities, reduce the staggering number of violent crimes committed against American Indians and Alaska Natives and close out hundreds of cold cases,” said Bernhardt.

The executive order established the Operation Lady Justice Task Force, a multi-agency effort co-chaired by Bernhardt and U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr. Its purpose is to enhance the operation of the criminal justice system and address missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Natives.  

“Today’s opening of the first Missing and Murdered Native Americans Cold Case office demonstrates the commitment of the Operation Lady Justice Task Force to achieving the mandate set out for it under President Trump’s Executive Order,” said Sweeney. “Cold cases in Indian Country will be addressed with determination and the understanding that the victims in these cases will be accorded some measure of dignity and compassion – not only for them, but for their survivors, as well.”  

The Cold Case Task Forces are in accordance with the executive order and will be staffed with law enforcement personnel and special agents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services, along with personnel from other Operation Lady Justice Task Force partners including tribal law enforcement, the FBI and offices of the U.S. Attorneys.  

Since 2019, the DOI and BIA have undertaken efforts to address the crisis, conducting criminal investigations, stopping illicit drug activity and solving missing and murdered cases.  

The BIA-OJS partnership with the Department of Justice’s Missing and Unidentified Persons System, known as NamUs, has led to the implementation of tribal-affiliation data fields to assist law enforcement with capturing information to track missing and murdered people in Indian Country. Since the addition of these data fields, there has been a 60 percent increase in Native-person entries into the system.  

Other Cold Case Task Force offices were expected to open in Rapid City, South Dakota on Aug. 4; Billings, Montana, on Aug. 6; Albuquerque, New Mexico on Aug. 11; Phoenix on Aug. 13; and Anchorage, Alaska, on Aug. 26.

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