Indian Country Investigations

July 2, 2009

Discussion of the FBI's working relationship with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the training and strategies used when investigating crimes in Indian Country.

Audio Transcript

Mr. Schiff: Hello, I’m Neal Schiff and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases, and operations. The FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) have a working relationship investigating various crimes in Indian communities around the United States.

Ms. Gruzs: “We investigate homicides, sexual abuse of a child, physical abuse of a child, rape, and assaults.”

Mr. Schiff: That’s FBI Supervisory Special Agent Michelle Gruzs. She’s the chief of the Indian Country/Special Crimes Unit in the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

Ms. Gruzs: “Those would be about 75 percent of the cases that we currently have open. And from there we have drug and gang investigations; financial investigations.”

Mr. Schiff: Gruzs says her unit, which is in the FBI’s Violent Crimes Section, is quite busy.

Ms. Gruzs: “Within the Indian Country/Special Crimes Unit we have oversight of all FBI investigations within 200 reservations. Currently there are 562 federally recognized tribes, but 80 percent of what the FBI does is in four divisions: the Minneapolis Division, Salt Lake Division, the Phoenix Division, and the Albuquerque Division.”

Mr. Schiff: Training is important, and Gruzs says special agents and other law enforcement officers join together to be better investigators.

Ms. Gruzs: “Within the unit our first priority is training Indian Country law enforcement and that would include our FBI agents, Bureau of Indian Affairs special agents, tribal law enforcement, and local law enforcement if they are part of our Safe Trails Task Forces.”

Mr. Schiff: What does the training entail?

Ms. Gruzs: “Within the Indian Country Unit, we have a basic core of group courses. We start with the Indian Country basic course; we have Indian Country crime scene management evidence collection courses which we do with the FBI Laboratory. We have Indian Country child sexual abuse training; interview and interrogation training; forensic interviewing of children; training that we do with the Office of Victim Assistance. We have Indian Country drug and gang training, and we have a Safe Trails Task Force tactical operations training. And we also participate with the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services, Indian Police Academy, and we try to make sure that we don’t overlap our training needs. So we make a concerted effort to ensure that our law enforcement has the ability to be safe when they investigate the cases and also to protect the integrity of the cases.”

Mr. Schiff: What is the Safe Trails Task Force?

Ms. Gruzs: “Safe Trails Task Forces were created to leverage resources within Indian Country. Typically there are two types of missions for the Safe Trails Task Forces, and they do fall within the Safe Streets Task Force umbrella. And typically, the mission is either to combat violent crime or to combat drugs and gangs within Indian Country. And that’s where we deputize our tribal law enforcement and our local law enforcement to address those crime problems.”

Mr. Schiff: What’s the relationship between the FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and its law enforcement arm?

Ms. Gruzs: “The FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services, we investigate our cases jointly. The BIA also participates on our Safe Trails Task Forces. They actually try to place their drug investigators on the Safe Trails Task Forces. And lastly, we coordinate our training efforts with the BIA.”

Mr. Schiff: As for numbers, Gruzs’ unit reports that in fiscal year 2008 there were nearly 2,400 pending cases, nearly 900 indictments, and more than 950 arrests. In the current fiscal year, 2009, cases pending in Indian Country are already near 2,400.

Ms. Gruzs: “Since October of 2008 we have arrested and indicted about 600 of the 2,400 pending cases that we have open.”

Mr. Schiff: What about the FBI’s role? Does the FBI have a presence on Indian reservations, every day, all day?

Ms. Gruzs: “Since FBI special agents are not uniform police we do not have a daily presence that is visible in the same sense as a uniform policeman. But due to the number of cases the FBI agents are investigating, they are typically out on the reservations two to three days a week.”

Mr. Schiff: Obviously investigating crimes is one thing; what about assisting victims? How does the FBI play a role in helping those who are victimized by the criminals?

Ms. Gruzs: “Once the Office of Victim Assistance was created in 2000, since about that time, 31 victim specialists have been stationed in 31 (FBI) resident agencies. And they play a very critical role with our FBI agents. They assist with the victims’ needs as soon as a crime has occurred; they work with victim specialists that are assigned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office; and more importantly, they are able to develop that relationship with the family while the FBI agent is investigating the case and putting it together for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

Mr. Schiff: What is the reaction of Native Americans to FBI special agents when they’re out investigating or to the victim specialists when they come on to assist those who have been hurt by one thing or another?

Ms. Gruzs: “The Native American community members react very positively to the FBI, whether you are a special agent or a victim specialist. We really rely on those relationships within the community to help us in our cases. The community members tend to help us identify where people are living because of the fact that a lot of times people don’t have telephones in the community or they are very transient, so we rely on those relationships to help us identify where people are residing so we can further our investigation.”

Mr. Schiff: How important is it for residents of Indian communities to help law enforcement?

Ms. Gruzs: “I would say that whether it’s the FBI, the tribal police, or the Bureau of Indian Affairs, we rely very heavily on community members to contact the police department or the FBI in the event that there is a serious crime going on. We, unfortunately, are not in close proximity to where the communities are. So it takes us, potentially, an hour or an hour-and-a-half to get to that community to respond. So that we need to have that relationship in place so that way we can better serve that community.”

Mr. Schiff: The FBI is here to help.

Ms. Gruzs: “Right. The FBI has primary jurisdiction on over 200 reservations and based on the violent crime that occurs, a lot of times the evidence may be lost if we don’t have those good community relations to be able to collect that evidence that is so time sensitive.”

Mr. Schiff: There is so much to learn about the FBI and its relationships with Native Americans and their communities. On the Internet, go to the “What We Investigate” link at That concludes our show. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.

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