Paul Abbate
Deputy Director
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Las Vegas, Nevada
August 30, 2022

Deputy Director's Remarks to the National Native American Law Enforcement Association

Thank you, Hugh, for that introduction, and thank you to the National Native American Law Enforcement Association’s leadership for the invitation to speak today. It is truly an honor and a privilege to join you all here.

This conference presents a valuable opportunity for the FBI to reinforce our commitment to partnering with you to keep Indigenous communities safe. Thank you for that. And to underscore the importance of our joint work enforcing the rule of law, protecting the innocent, helping victims, and supporting survivors throughout the country. 

Throughout this week’s conference, you will hear from the FBI about the ways we partner with you and support ongoing efforts to protect Indigenous communities. Today I want to spend time, amongst other things, addressing some of the questions you have about the FBI’s jurisdictional authorities and recent changes. And talking about the significant resources we’ve dedicated to investigating crimes in Indian Country, empowering and assisting victims, and supporting our law enforcement partners across the board and at all levels.

Congress has provided funding for us in the FBI to staff just under 90 special agent positions specifically dedicated to working Indian Country criminal matters. Recognizing that this is certainly far from adequate, we in the Bureau have gone above and beyond and have devoted over 150 agents assigned to the program across the country to reflect our commitment and the importance of the work we do together. That is because American Indians and Alaska Natives face some of our country’s highest rates of violence and combating that is among the most important and highest priority work we do together with you, in the Bureau. 

The FBI’s Indian Country program aims to reduce the impact of violent crime on Indigenous communities. And we do that by focusing our investigative efforts on, and seeking criminal prosecution of, the most dangerous and violent criminal offenders. But that can only be done by coordinating with our partners throughout government at the tribal, territorial, state, and local levels, as well as with our federal partners at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and U.S. Marshall’s Service. 

For nearly 30 years, our Safe Trails Task Forces have formed the bedrock of our partnerships in Indian Country. Through our 22 Safe Trails Task Forces across the United States, we in the FBI partners with agencies at all levels to target things like violent crime, illegal drugs, gangs, fraud, and crimes against children. Together, we provide training on all of those threats and help coordinate investigative efforts. The FBI is also an active member of the Department of Justice’s Steering Committee to Address the Crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons. 

And we are proud to have FBI employees serving on the interagency Not Invisible Act Commission, which is dedicated to combating the epidemic of missing or murdered Indigenous people as well as countering human trafficking. Because of the strengths of these partnerships, together we are able to identify, investigate, and deter the most dangerous criminals targeting our communities. 

In this role, that I currently serve in, I have the privilege, day in and day out, of speaking with law enforcement leaders, agents, officers, deputies, and rangers across the country, and what I hear from them is the resounding message that none of us feels like we have the resources we need to appropriately and effectively combat the crime that our communities and the people we serve are facing. But what they also share in those conversations as well is that when we work in partnership, we accomplish so much more than if we try to do the work alone. And that is an essential tenant and what we firmly believe at the FBI. It's all about the partnership.

One thing that makes the FBI’s relationships with your agencies so essential is the sheer size of our responsibilities in Indian Country—which recent court rulings have significantly expanded. As you all well know, across the country there are 574 federally recognized tribes, more than 300 reservations, and close to 70 state-recognized tribes. We in the Bureau, have investigative responsibility for federal crimes committed on approximately two-thirds of those reservations—much of which is shared jurisdiction with our partners at the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Justice Services. But the FBI’s role in investigating a specific crime can vary depending on the circumstances.  

In general, we are responsible for investigating the most serious crimes in Indian Country, including murder, child sexual and physical abuse, violent assaults, drug offenses, public corruption, and financial crimes. Those crimes must have occurred on a reservation where the FBI has jurisdiction, and the subject, victim, or both must be American Indian or Alaska Native.    

That has long been a sizeable mission for us in FBI and our investigators working Indian Country crimes … but it became a much bigger one in 2020. 

As you know, that is when the Supreme Court’s decision, McGirt v. Oklahoma—and then several appellate court decisions thereafter—returned a large portion of land to federal tribal reservations in Oklahoma. That added quite a bit more area, residents, and, unfortunately, crime to the federal jurisdiction. In order for us to stay ahead of that, we had to make some very difficult choices within the Bureau and some strategic changes to accomplish and continue the mission we were already so focused on prioritizing.   

These included:

  • Deploying more agents, analysts, and professional staff,
  • Expanding training,
  • Surging victim specialists and child and adolescent forensic interviewers,
  • Increasing voluntary and permanent assignments to Indian Country, and 
  • Standing up intake centers to process the large volume of new cases that were coming in. 

In the midst of that adjustment, the Supreme Court ruled in a new case, Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, this past June. The court held that the state and federal government have jurisdiction in certain instances for Indian Country crimes—specifically, crimes committed by those who aren’t members of Indigenous communities. That decision clears a jurisdictional pathway for state governments to investigate and prosecute a broader subset of crimes in Indian Country.  What it does not do is diminish the FBI’s dedication to public safety for Indigenous communities. 

The bottom line is this: While the landscape of fighting crime in Indian Country shifts with judicial decisions, the FBI’s commitment, our commitment, does not. And never will. We will continue to enforce federal law, work to prevent harm, protect victims, and seek justice in Indian Country along side each of you.

And we will continue to coordinate and cooperate with our tribal, territorial, state, and local law enforcement partners—as well as tribal and state prosecutors —to keep Indigenous communities safe. 

Partnering with other agencies to investigate Indian Country crimes is essential crucial work (we all know that), but it is not the only way the FBI supports and protects American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Since it was established over two decades ago, our Victim Services Division has placed the highest priority on providing services and assistance to Indigenous victims of crime. In fact, the FBI’s very first child adolescent forensic interviewer was hired specifically to support the Indian Country program.

Those interviewers provide absolutely critical services, which I believe you will hear more about from the FBI presenters over the next few days.
Now, as a result of that, we have forensic interviewers covering all of our investigative programs nationwide. Today, nearly 50 victim specialists are dedicated to Indian Country cases across this nation. Our victim specialists provide critical support to victims and their families during extraordinarily challenging times. They inform, support, and assist victims navigating the aftermath of crime—as well as the criminal justice process—with the fairness, dignity, respect, and compassion these survivors deserve. 

 They also work hard to train our investigators and partners on topics ranging from juvenile sex trafficking and child abduction to forensic interviews of children and adolescents and, in certain circumstances, adults as well. It is important to note that our victim specialists are embedded in the communities they serve. That helps them develop greater trust, knowledge, and cultural sensitivity when assisting victims and survivors of crime anywhere—but particularly in Indian Country. It is essential to their role to serve as a bridge between the communities and our agents, officers, and prosecutors. Ensuring victims can actively engage in the criminal justice process with dignity and support and resilience helps us bring criminals to justice and hold them accountable for their crimes.  

In addition to the investigative and victim resources we provide, the FBI is continually working to improve our response to—and  support for—Indigenous communities. As an example, the Safe Online Surfing program educates Indigenous youth to protect themselves from internet predators. And through our elder fraud awareness efforts, the FBI has assisted tribal elders in protecting themselves from fraudulent financial and other schemes. We also support various information sharing initiatives to help keep both our tribal law enforcement partners and Indigenous communities safe.

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, provides technology, forensic services, and investigative support to resolve long-term unidentified and missing person investigations. NamUS helps families impacted by the death or disappearance of loved ones by providing access to peer mentors, support groups, and mental health services.

We also support the Tribal Access Program, otherwise known as  TAP, which lets us exchange critical data through national databases via the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services network. It helps tribes better serve and protect their citizens in a wide variety of ways.
 They can enter and see arrests and convictions in the national databases, register more sex offenders, enforce orders of protection, and keep firearms away from those disqualified from possessing them—that’s to name just a few.

Today, TAP serves more than 200 tribal criminal justice and civil agencies. And through the FBI’s Tribal Engagement Program, we are helping the Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal law enforcement agencies make the best possible use of our information services so that everyone involved and each of you can solve cold cases and advance your investigations into missing or murdered Indigenous people.

It's no secret to anyone here that those working these types of cases are  extremely challenging and dangerous. The workload is significant and ever increasing. It involves traveling vast distances—often to remote locations—and working cases that are extremely violent in nature. It’s the  kind of work can take a toll on anyone. And on top of that, the men and women working Indian Country crimes are up against the same challenges law enforcement officers face across the nation.

And that brings me to another topic which is of paramount importance to us at the FBI; one that Director Wray often speaks about and I know how important it is to you, too: threats to law enforcement personnel. Last year, tragically, 73 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed on the job. That made 2021 the most dangerous year to be in law enforcement in about two decades. And the largest percentage of officers who were feloniously killed last year died in unprovoked attacks—suggesting they were in fact targeted.

Sadly, so far in 2022, 44 more officers have been murdered in the line of duty. Those officers got up in the morning, put on the badge, and bravely ventured out, knowing the dangers that they would face. They did those jobs in a dedicated way knowing the hardships encountered and challenges faced, especially in these difficult past few years, because they were devoted to protecting their fellow Americans and their communities. Keeping our people safe is and should be our highest priority. That is why working together to fight the threats we collectively face is so essential and so important.

Again, getting the most violent offenders off the streets will go a long way toward that goal, and so will making sure our teams have the training and equipment that they need to do the job safely. We at the FBI continue to sound the alarm regarding this appalling trend and bring sustained attention to it. And we intend to continue working with you to take every action we can to to keep our people safe. Because we all know that law enforcement is dangerous enough, day in and day out, on its own. Wearing a badge and serving the public should not make someone a target.

To know how to effectively and best effectively to address the threat, we also need to understand the trends. And that brings me to something we at the FBI need from you: We need concrete and transparent information into what is really going on across the country and in our communities through accurate, timely, objective data. We really need the facts. That’s what we need 

As many of you know, it has been more than a year since the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program transitioned to NIBRS-only reporting. For those who might not know, NIBRS stands for the National Incident-Based Reporting System. This new program is more detailed, provides more comprehensive data, and is more streamlined and easier to use. Today, more than 12,000 of the nation’s law enforcement agencies (64%) are now reporting their data through NIBRS. And that includes 177 tribal agencies.

For those of you who are participating, thank you for that. And if not, I want to encourage you to do so. Our annual report, Crime in the United States, relies on data submitted via NIBRS to give departments and agencies—and the public we serve—insight into the crime issues we are all facing.

Of note, not enough agencies had transitioned to NIBRS by the cutoff date for our 2021 report, so when we release it, in a short time, you will see estimates of some trends – including violent crime. But as more and more agencies make the switch to NIBRS, we will be able to make broader and more in-depth crime data analysis available to everyone.

I want you to know that we at the FBI are investing—and are going to continue to invest—in training and tools to help agencies make the transition. We know it can be a challenge, but we are here to help you make that transition toward that end. Because if you are not NIBRS-certified, you cannot contribute the crucial data we need to get the most complete nationwide picture and put us all in the best position to serve and protect.

Another program I want to tell you about today is new – and one that is sometimes hard to talk about. This year, we started collecting data on law enforcement suicides and attempted suicides. That includes not just the location of these tragedies and the manner of death, but also things like biographical information, employment history, any issues, or out-of-the-ordinary behaviors or actions departments or agencies may have seen.  

Gathering this data and in general and making it available across the law enforcement community is vital for all of us as we continue making the physical and mental health of our personnel a top priority. By better understanding the issue of law enforcement suicides, we can help prevent them. You can find the data currently on our Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal, or LEEP.

We need to keep our communities safe, but we also have to be able to take care of our own and each other. And we cannot do that properly without greater insight into what is really happening out there.

I think we can all agree that we are facing some very real challenges—that’s an understatement—with some of the most complex and rapidly evolving threats we’ve ever seen. What gives me hope and us hope and optimism, is that despite those challenges, the FBI employees assigned to Indian Country continuously say it is some of the most rewarding work they’re doing or have done over the course of their careers. 

Because in doing so, they are helping to keep communities safe, giving victims a voice, and reminding them that “justice for all” applies to everyone, fairly and equally. That is the essence of our job and mission in the FBI and across the community.

And we are humbled and proud to work alongside each of you as we protect people and pursue justice for victims of crimes across Indian Country. I want you to know from us in the FBI, how truly committed we are to that. Once again, thank you for your partnership and attendance today.

Stay well, be safe, and God bless you.