Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)


Kurt Alme is the United States Attorney for the District of Montana and the Vice Chair of the Native American Issues Subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Our country is in the throes of an opioid epidemic and a major meth crisis. Let me repeat some of the statistics you may have already heard. There were about 8,000 overdose deaths in America in 1990. But in 2016, an estimated 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses. As the Deputy Attorney General has pointed out, our country lost more Americans in 2016 to overdoses than in battle during the entire Vietnam War. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50.

Native American communities have been hit particularly hard by drugs. We know from the most recent DEA National Drug Threat Assessment that while the drug threat in Indian Country varies by region, meth and marijuana are the most widely used illegal substances, while heroin and prescription drug use has increased in many areas. Between 2015 and 2016, BIA Field Agents reported a 56 percent increase in heroin seizures and a 109 percent increase in meth seizures. Native American substance abuse disorder rates are about twice that of the overall population. And according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Indian and Alaskan Native people had the highest drug overdose death rate in 2015.

In Montana, we are seeing the same problems. Tribal councils report substantial meth dealing and use, and growing opioid use. In 2016, nearly half of infants born in one reservation county were at risk for neonatal abstinence syndrome. While in 2017, 44 percent of the pregnant women seeking care in another tribal health care center tested positive for opioids or other substances. Both on and off reservations, substance abuse is causing overcrowded jails, burdened emergency rooms, and overwhelmed treatment programs. In Billings, which is the largest town close to several reservations, child abuse and neglect cases increased from 173 in 2011 to 531 in 2016, and 266 involved meth. Forty-three percent of those cases involved children who are tribal members or eligible for tribal membership.

Of course, of significant concern to us in law enforcement is the impact trafficking and substance abuse has on public safety. Last year, Attorney General Sessions directed all U.S. Attorneys to reinvigorate Project Safe Neighborhoods, a comprehensive approach with state, local and tribal law enforcement partners to aggressively enforce the law, and to form partnerships with communities and organizations to help prevent crime and promote public safety. While reinvigorating Project Safe Neighborhoods in Montana this past year, we heard consistently from law enforcement that meth is the major cause of our state’s almost 35 percent increase in violent crime between 2010 and 2016. We are seeing increasing dealer on dealer violence, armed robberies of casinos and convenience stores, and violent acts committed by meth users.

As everyone in this room knows, these problems are not just apparent in sterile statistics. There is always a real person behind each number.

Within a few weeks on one Montana reservation, two horrible meth related crimes were committed.

In April 2016, Janelle Red Dog was babysitting one-year-old Kensely Olson. Little Kensely was fussing, so Red Dog hit her in the head causing a seizure. Rather than getting the baby help, she put the baby in a bedroom and had a friend over to use meth. Hours later, Red Dog said she decided to take the baby to the hospital, but on the way she thought the baby died, so she stuffed little Kensely’s body in a duffel bag, threw the bag in a dumpster and returned home to go to sleep. Red Dog was convicted of murder.

A few weeks earlier on the same reservation, a 22-year-old man kidnapped a four-year-old girl from a playground. He physically and sexually abused her and left her for dead in a pickup truck where she was found four days later. The defendant was convicted and sentenced to 500 months in prison.

Tribal leaders said these crimes were rooted in the rising scourge of meth on that reservation.

These most serious problems demand our best responses . . . and deserve our best efforts.

Many good responses have already started to reduce supply and demand:

The opioid epidemic is a top priority for the President and the Attorney General. Last year, the Attorney General announced the formation of the Justice Department’s Opioid Fraud and Detection Unit. The prosecutors use data to identify and prosecute health care fraud related to the diversion of prescription opioids.

So many of our good responses are successful because they result from partnerships with Native Communities. I encourage all of us to support any positive efforts they put forth.

An opportunity to leverage tribal partnerships is DEA’s Drug Take Back Days. The last one, on April 28, gathered almost one million pounds of pills. In American Indian and Alaska Native communities, DEA collaborated with the BIA, and engaged 80 law enforcement partners at 142 sites. They netted almost 2,270 pounds of pills. The next Take Back Day will be this fall. I encourage all of us to keep working with our tribal partners to get even more pills out of Indian Country.

To effectively reduce supply, we know we need the resources to do our job. We were all pleased to hear that BIA recently received $7.5 million for this purpose and is hiring 17 new Drug Agents. Because resources are so important, the Native American Issues Subcommittee has recently formed a law enforcement resources working group to work on this issue.

But let’s not wait for more help. Let’s go find and bring together the resources that do exist. We need to commit to our drug task forces and support them however we can. In times of tight budgets, we all know local and tribal law enforcement are pressured to have officers respond to reactive crime instead of investigating drug organizations. We need to convince our partners that by working with us in drug task forces and taking down drug trafficking organizations, they will actually do more to reduce crime . . . and then we need to prove them right.

Where task forces do not exist we need to look for motivated partners to create them – whether the task forces are formal or informal. In addition to tribal partners, let’s find other willing federal, state and local partners in the area, and one size does not have to fit all.

For example, in Montana, we’re trying any response that works to leverage cooperation:

On two reservations in Montana the DEA and BIA are spearheading a push to investigate the drug trafficking networks that are supplying these communities.

In another reservation, BIA has been awarded a drug agent. FBI is now exploring the availability of partners – including the new BIA drug agent, U.S. Border Patrol, the state drug investigation unit, highway patrol, sheriff’s deputies, and city and tribal police officers - to form a Safe Trails Task Force.

And for two smaller reservations close to each other with a larger town between, we are exploring options to better support the Indian Country work of a local police-driven task force.

We are also trying to support High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs) in the larger towns serving as distribution hubs to Montana reservations in order to interdict drug supply before it gets to them.

Perhaps the most important step we’ve taken to reduce drug supply is creating a statewide drug enforcement group of all drug task force leaders, and federal, state and tribal law enforcement entities doing drug enforcement work. We’re sharing investigations and intelligence, and coordinating training and resources.

By including agencies like the state highway patrol, U.S. Border Patrol and Postal Inspection Services in the group, all law enforcement has a better understanding of all of the major ways drugs are entering our state. I expect this will help us better focus on reducing the flow of drugs into our state.

We are also trying to better coordinate prosecutions among federal, state, tribal and county prosecutors to move cases quicker and to be sure we account for every member of a drug conspiracy by either charging them or diverting them to treatment.

At the end of the day, everyone in this room knows that how effective we are in reducing drug supply depends on our resources, and the energy and leadership we show other law enforcement who work with us.

But reducing supply is only half the battle. We also need to help reduce demand for drugs.

Although this conference is mostly about enforcement and supply reduction, I’d encourage you to learn some of the highlights of federal funds available to tribes for prevention, treatment and diversion so you can encourage tribal leaders to apply.

Most Department of Justice grants available to tribes are offered through the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation or “CTAS”, a streamlined grant program that is providing $101 million to American Indian and Alaska Native communities this year to enhance law enforcement practices and sustain crime prevention and intervention efforts. In addition, the Bureau of Justice Assistance recently held a seminar outlining many of the grant opportunities for next year. It was recorded and will soon be available on the Tribal Justice Website, I encourage you to tell your tribal partners about the seminar if they don’t already know. These grants are significant. For example, in 2018, Congress provided $35 million for Tribal Assistance, $5 million for Tribal Youth Programs, and $30 million for the Tribal Resources Grant Program.

Here are a few other noteworthy highlights for 2018 for you to share with your tribal contacts:

First is our Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program which is run by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Its goals are to reduce opioid misuse and overdose fatalities; and support the use of prescription drug monitoring programs to assist clinical decision-making and prevent the misuse and diversion of controlled substances. Sample grants to tribes include: funds to the Seneca Nation Peacemakers Courts to create a culturally competent diversion project aimed at helping Native American opioid users; and funds to the Port Gamble S’Kallam Tribe to support veterans’ courts and programs.

Mary Daly announced here yesterday that the Office for Victims of Crime is offering a grant that could be a “game changer” for some tribes. Congress earmarked three percent of the Crime Victim Fund to grants for tribal programs. This means that tribes have until August 6 to apply for up to $110 million for a broad range of victim services – including domestic violence, mental health and substance abuse. In short order, you can notify your tribal contacts that there will be a webinar on this opportunity tomorrow, June 28 at 2 pm eastern. It will be recorded and available on the Office for Victims of Crime’s website.

Substance abuse in Indian Country is an issue receiving attention at the highest levels of our agencies and government. I am vice-chair of the Native American Issues Subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Council. We have recognized the importance of drug and related violence issues in Indian Country and formed standing working groups to address substance abuse, violent crime, and law enforcement resources. I can tell you that the U. S. Attorneys who serve on these groups are energized and motivated to reduce drug use and related violent crime.

Also, the Indian Country Law Enforcement Coordination Working Group, co-chaired by the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Indian Affairs is helping coordinate federal law enforcement in tribal communities. The group includes representatives from 13 federal law enforcement agencies and has focused heavily on the opioid epidemic and coordinating responses to the problem.

As you finish the rest of this conference and after you return home, I encourage you to keep thinking of better ways we can attack these problems at home or on a regional or national level. Drug traffickers are always changing and improving their methods. We need to do the same. Feed your ideas to your agency, your partner agencies, or feel free to call me.

Let’s also commit to improving how we do our jobs day to day – as you’ve done by attending this conference. The Department of Justice, often in coordination with BIA, offers trainings in opioid trends, changing investigative techniques, drug handling precautions, naloxone use, and indicators that opioids are in the community.

In addition, the Executive Office for U. S. Attorneys carries out the National Indian Country Training Initiative which includes training for federal and tribal investigators and prosecutors on topics such as drug-related offenses in Indian Country. The training initiative, together with SAMHSA and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, also hosts a yearly training to help tribes create a Tribal Action Plan to combat alcohol and substance abuse among tribal members. This type of comprehensive planning is critical to minimizing drug use in a community.

As these trainings are offered, I encourage you to attend those that are helpful to you, but also to invite tribal leaders to attend those that are helpful to them.

Last year, Mason Moore, a deputy sheriff in Montana was shot and killed in the line of duty. Last month, I had the honor of delivering a letter from Attorney General Sessions to Jodi Moore, Deputy Moore’s widow, their twin junior high boys and elementary daughter. I got to thank Ms. Moore for her family’s sacrifice and tell the children that their dad is a hero.

Last year, 129 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty, and over 58,000 were assaulted.

There are some who say the work we do at best doesn’t make any difference, and at worst puts people in prison who shouldn’t be there. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. The work you do makes a big difference in lives, in families and in communities. I and all Americans owe you a debt of gratitude for putting your life on the line every day, just like Deputy Moore and the other 128 officers who died last year. You are making a difference, and you see it in the lives of those hurt by drug related violent crime, those in the grip of addiction, and those family and friends who share the consequences.

Thank you.


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