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Crime Strikes Native Americans

Among Native Americans there are 124 violent crimes -- murders, assaults, robberies and rapes -- for every 100,000 people. That shocking figure comes from the first comprehensive look by the Justice Department at crime among American Indians.

It's a rate that is almost 2 1/2 times the national average.

The study, released Sunday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, also found that 4 percent of Indian adults, were in custody or otherwise involved in the criminal justice system on any given day. That percentage is twice the average of the white population.

"People need to know how desperate it is," said Kathleen Bliss, a federal prosecutor in New Mexico. "Violent crime in Indian country is increasing while it goes down nationally."

The murder rate among Native Americans is no higher than it is among whites, and only one-fifth as high as that of blacks. But they are twice as likely as African Americans and three times more likely than whites to be victims of rape or aggravated assault.

Overall family violence is not a greater problem among Native Americans compared to the rest of the population, but the study found Indian children are more likely to be abused than those of any other ethnic group.

Reports of child abuse and neglect among native populations jumped 18 percent between 1992 and 1995 while the national rate fell by 8 percent. The study offered no explanation for the increase, but law enforcement officials said it could reflect better reporting.

The study, based on surveys and crime records, didn't distinguish between Native Americans who live in cities and those on reservations, nor did it track year-to-year trends in the crime rate.

A majority of the nation's 2.3 million Native Americans live on reservations. The rest are mostly concentrated in such urban areas as Denver, Minneapolis and Phoenix.

A 1997 study by federal law enforcement officials and tribal leaders declared a "public safety crisis" on the nation's reservations and proposed to double the size of their police forces.

At the Clinton administration's request, Congress increased spending for reservation law enforcement by $108 million. The money was slated to pay for new jails, patrol cars, and 1,000 additional officers. The administration has asked for an additional $145 million increase next year.

The 1997 study found there were 1,600 Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal police officers patrolling 56 million acres of Indian land. That is equivalent to 1.3 officers for every 1,000 residents, compared with 2.9 officers per 1,000 residents in non-Indian rural communities.

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