The Tribal Law & Order Act (TLOA) was signed into effect nearly 9 years ago on July 29, 2010, by President Barack Obama. The purpose of the Act was clear: increase the punitive power of tribes across the nation. Attention had been directed at increasing their punitive powers for some years; some reporters, prior to the TLOA, had referred to the tribal governments as “lawless” and “in crisis”. The Act was more than necessary for tribal governments.
In order for the TLOA to be successful, a three-part plan was rolled out:¹
- Establish clear responsibilities among federal, state, tribal and local governments
- Improve coordination and communication between the various agencies
- Equip tribal governments with the necessary tools, resources and intelligence to ensure safe and effective policy
A major driving force behind this new law was improving safety for Native American women. A Department of Justice report from 2009 detailed the violent conditions many Native American women were experiencing. Native American women experience violent crimes 3.5x more often than the average. Additionally, the report stated that nearly one in three Native American women will be raped during their lifetime. These staggering figures, in part, prompted the enactment of the TLOA.
Improving the safety of all Native Americans, and women specifically, meant a major shift in tribal law enforcement. The TLOA “encourages the hiring of more law enforcement officers for Indian lands and provides additional tools to address critical public safety needs.”² Improving the ability of tribal governments to prosecute and punish criminals was thus necessary. Better training and increased access to criminal information databases was another step in the right direction for improved law enforcement bodies. Improved education was not only necessary for law enforcement officers; it was necessary for the youth as well. At risk youth were made a priority as well, as the TLOA encourage improved prevention programs for youth pre-exposed to alcohol and drug abuse.
New guidelines were as well put into place with how to handle sexual assault and domestic violence moving forward. Just a few months prior to the TLOA, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA), part of Obama’s Affordable Care Act, was put into place. The TLOA and IHCIA together improved access for Native American women to receive the help they needed following sexual assault. They additionally improved law enforcement’s ability to prosecute the offenders. Prior to the TLOA, Indian tribes were only allowed to sentence Indian offenders up to one year regardless of the severity of the crime. The TLOA now allows tribes to sentence offenders up to three years and nine years for repeat offenders. Further, the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization of 2013 (VAWA 2013) gave more authority to tribal governments to execute the law and prosecute offenders. VAWA 2013 improved the ability of tribal governments to prosecute both Indian and non-Indian criminals, although only for domestic violence, dating violence and violations of protection orders.
In order to track the success of the TLOA, the last major goal of the Act was improving the collection and storage of criminal data. In 2015, the first Senate hearing took place detailing the success of the TLOA since its enactment five years prior. Although at the time only 8 tribes were taking advantage of the Act, several others were working towards it. Nonetheless, the results indicated a trend in the right direction:³
- More than 1300 tribal, state and local law enforcement officers received BIA Special Law Enforcement Commissions
- The Sycuan Tribe in California had vastly improved coordination with California law enforcement
- 25 Special Assistant United States Attorneys were representing 23 different tribes. These attorneys help tribes get their cases brought before a federal court.
- In 2015, the Tulalip Tribe of Washington had made 835 arrests. Over 60 percent of those were non-Indians and 33 of the 835 were sentenced to more than one year, both possible through the TLOA.
Although progress has been made as a result of the TLOA, there remains much to be improved moving forward. The Tribal Law and Order Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2019 was recently reported out of committee. The bill has yet to be brought to the House or the Senate, but according to Skopos Labs the bill has an 89% chance of being enacted.⁴ This is good news for Indian tribes across America as the bill would further strengthen their law enforcement capabilities and improve the safety of Native American women.
Richard James Grellner, attorney at law and owner of RJG Law, PLLC, specializes in tribal law in Oklahoma. RJG Law specializes in intra-tribal relationships as well as those existing between tribes and the federal government, state governments, and non-Indian corporations.
Property rights and business contracts are popular areas of dispute, but our Oklahoma tribal law firm has worked with several tribes including the Otoe-Missouria, Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, Comanche Nation, Eastern Shawnee Tribe and more on a wide variety of legal concerns.
Interested in learning more about how Richard Grellner and the team at RJG Law can help you?
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- “Tribal Law & Order Act,” National Congress of American Indians.
- “Tribal Law & Order Act,” Department of Justice, Updated 20 Nov 2018.
- “Tribal Law & Order Act at Five Years,” Indian Law Resource Center.
- “S. 210: Tribal Law and Order Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2019,” GovTrack, 23 May 2019.