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US House Bill Would Expand Tribal Jurisdiction In Domestic Violence Cases

Navajo Nation Police Department

A bill is being introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this week that would expand tribal jurisdiction over non-Native Americans on reservations. The effort is aimed at protecting children and responding police officers in domestic violence situations. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

Since 2013 tribes have had the authority to prosecute non-Natives for domestic violence crimes on reservations. But that jurisdiction doesn’t apply to cases involving children or attacks on tribal police officers responding to those calls.

The Native Youth and Tribal Officer Protection Act is designed to close that loophole. 

"These cases need to be investigated and because of some federal process officers aren’t protected, the victim isn’t protected, the children aren’t protected. And in many cases we all the sudden end up with the victim missing, maybe never to be found, or when they are found they’ve passed away from violence," says Arizona Democratic Congressman Tom O’Halleran, a cosponsor of the bill. 

O’Halleran, himself a former police officer, says domestic violence calls are often the most dangerous for first responders. He also says many cases involving non-Indigenous suspects go unprosecuted.

According to federal statistics, Indigenous people in the U.S. are two times more likely to suffer sexual assault than non-Natives, and more than 90% of victims report being attacked by a non-tribal member. 

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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