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Back to Archives | Back to January 2007 Contents 

Innovations in Indian Country: Inter-tribal Integrated Justice Pilot Project

By Philip D. Propes

Program Director, National Center for Rural Law Enforcement, Little Rock, Arkansas

ecent technological advances and initiatives have allowed law enforcement agencies, courts, and other judicial agencies to share data at the local, state, and federal levels. These agencies have been able to greatly increase their public safety capabilities and enhance the general well-being of the communities they serve.

Many of the more than 200 tribal justice agencies nationwide, however, are unable to participate in these initiatives, due to a lack of funding, trained personnel, or proper infrastructure. As a result, criminal history records, which are vital for public safety and judicial processing, are not being efficiently and consistently shared. This creates a gap in our nation’s efforts to combat and track criminal offenders and provide for the safety and security of all our citizens.

The Inter-tribal Integrated Justice Pilot Project was designed to remedy this situation by providing information sharing capabilities in Indian Country. The multiyear project is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance, and primarily involves the Navajo Nation, the Pueblo of Zuni, and the Hopi Tribe of Arizona and New Mexico. The National Center for Rural Law Enforcement, a campus of the University of Arkansas System, was selected to manage the project, based on its experience with tribal and rural justice agencies.

Initial Meetings Bring Tribal and Agency Members Together
Tribal justice agencies face unique and difficult challenges when trying to integrate with local, state, and federal systems. Any technical initiative undertaken needs the full support of tribal councils, members, civic and government leaders, and other prominent stakeholders. This could only be accomplished through information and education efforts, and contact and open dialogue with tribal personnel.

In June 2000 NCRLE met with the members of the Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi tribes to discuss the issues involved in the integration effort. An on-site technology survey was conducted in 35 locations, covering more than 2,000 miles of tribal lands. This open communication, both with NCRLE and among the tribes themselves, helped to identify the common barriers facing tribal agencies. Through meetings with more than 250 tribal leaders and agency representatives, NCRLE developed an understanding of the challenges facing Indian Country and established goals to provide these enhanced information sharing systems. Twenty-three additional interviews were conducted in order to develop the best strategy for overcoming these barriers.

In August 2000 NCRLE convened a forum in Window Rock, Arizona, that drew 41 participants from the three pilot site tribes. Participants attended three focus groups dealing with the following topics:

• Integrated technology infrastructure needs
• Information sharing
• Building a business case

The forums and meetings allowed the tribes to remain active participants in designing their information technology futures. Using new technologies in Indian Country was not a matter of overcoming tribal customs and beliefs but of making the integration and expanded use of technologies compatible with those customs and beliefs.

Navajo Nation Convenes Criminal Justice Summit
In March 2001, in Kayenta, Arizona, the Navajo Nation held a criminal justice summit with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice, the National Criminal Justice Association, and the NCRLE. The objective of the summit was to develop a comprehensive strategy to foster coordination, collaboration, and communication among the various criminal justice service providers necessary to enhance safety in the Navajo Nation. The summit was designed to reach community leaders, council members, and other prominent stakeholders to garner support for tribal technology changes.

The cooperation and support of all of the judicial and law enforcement agencies in the Navajo Nation allowed for the development of a comprehensive strategic plan for the integration of tribal technology. The summit also identified the common issues and disadvantages faced by tribal agencies, including the following:

• Limited resources
• Minimal training and education
• Inadequate facilities
• Undeveloped technology

To overcome these challenges, the summit attendees were able to develop solutions that would be incorporated into any future tribal technology initiatives. The following solutions were identified:

• Improvement of communications
• Regular interagency meetings
• Standardized policies and procedures
• Quality training
• Enhancement of data collection
• Maintaining and securing Native culture

This initial collaboration between NCRLE and the Navajo Nation was essential to the success of the pilot project. The participants agreed to implement an information technology system that would acknowledge tribal customs, diversity, and need.

Integrated Justice Pilot Project Would Link Tribes
Building on its relationship with the three tribes and on the goals established at the criminal justice summit and the technology assessments, NCRLE was able to begin implementing the Inter-tribal Integrated Justice Pilot Project on September 30, 2001.

The Inter-tribal Integrated Justice Pilot Project was designed to be a completed in three phases:

• Phase 1: Intra-tribal integration
• Phase 2: Inter-tribal integration between the tribes
• Phase 3: Integration with local, state, and federal agencies

The Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services has provided financial support, as well as expertise and guidance in meeting the technological and training needs for the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, and the Pueblo of Zuni. With the assistance of the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, participants are creating a model that can be used by other tribal nations and nontribal communities to best serve the public safety needs of their respective populations.

The NCRLE team consists of highly trained computer, network, data, and security engineers who have experience working with various tribes, as well as the U.S. Army, the U.S. Air Force, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice, state and local police departments, and numerous other private and public agencies.

Phase 1: During Phase I of the project, NCRLE created the technical infrastructure necessary for an integrated data system among all three tribes. In order for this occur, NCRLE met the following initiatives:

• Establish or enhance governance structures and enhance multijurisdictional support
• Enhance criminal justice information laws, policies, procedures, and practices
• Establish technical architecture, direction, and standards
• Enhance and install technology infrastructure
• Provide technical training and support

NCRLE developed networks in 10 different towns in Arizona and New Mexico, encompassing 48 criminal justice agencies. NCRLE actively worked with liaisons from each tribe who coordinated with the heads of their respective tribal justice agencies and governments in order to provide NCRLE with full access to their facilities. NCRLE’s accomplishments during phase 1 included providing technical assessments and purchasing and installing more than 200 workstations, 40 servers, 40 switches, 38 wireless data systems, and complete network cabling for the three tribes. NCRLE also upgraded or reconfigured more than 800 existing workstations.

NCRLE’s goal was to make the tribes as self-sufficient and independent as possible. Emphasis was placed on training the tribal end-users. Four training sessions were held in Farmington, New Mexico, with participants from all three tribes. Classes were given to 90 tribal law enforcement employees in the fundamentals of computer use. Advanced technical and network administration courses were given to 20 tribal computer technicians.

Phase 2: Phase 2, the technological integration of all three tribes, nears completion. NCRLE worked with commercial software and hardware vendors to establish a computer platform that would integrate all three tribal information systems. NCRLE ensured that the platform would adhere to established tribal customs, policies, and procedures. By using the Global Justice XML Data Model (GJXDM), NCRLE and all three tribes coordinated their efforts with Arizona, New Mexico, and the federal government in order to ensure that any future tribal initiatives would be compatible with the technologies of their residing states.

For each tribe in the project, NCRLE created a master-tier data server (called the datacenter) that would enable the tribes to share critical criminal justice information, such as protection orders, missing children information, and DUI convictions. Each tribe housed its own datacenter to act as the central point for the collection and retrieval of justice data. NCRLE configured the servers to pull vital data from preexisting tribal databases.

Throughout the process, NCRLE continued to act as advocate for full justice integration. In June 2006 NCRLE helped sponsor the Navajo Nation Information Technology Summit in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The purpose of this summit was to unite tribal technology efforts and coordinate ongoing technology initiatives. More than 350 participants from all three tribes attended in order to refine tribal policy and reaffirm plans on sharing information with each other and with local, state, and federal agencies.

Preliminary criminal history records have been successfully pulled from tribal datacenters. After the completion of phase 2, NCRLE will begin phase 3, which calls for the integration of tribal justice information with state and federal databases. NCRLE will work with the tribes to begin sharing tribal data with surrounding local jurisdictions, state criminal information centers, state criminal justice agencies, and federal criminal repositories, such as NCIC and the new N-DEx project. Additionally, NCRLE is sending representatives from each tribe to comprehensive training courses to learn the proper use and administration of these new datacenters.

Outcome: Tribes Have the Tools to Share Justice Information
The Inter-tribal Integrated Justice Pilot Project has provided the infrastructure and training necessary for tribes to begin integrating their data. With the successful completion of this project, tribes can share criminal history records, such as criminal case histories, background checks, police reports, probation lists, sex offender registry, warrant lists, court orders, and corrections data on inmates.

NCRLE’s long-standing partnership with the Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi tribes has proven that the integration of shared justice information can be a highly successful endeavor within Indian Country. This collaborative effort clearly shows that technical infrastructure development is possible across different jurisdictions and cultures. Working with tribal leadership, justice providers, and project personnel, NCRLE established a methodology for data integration that would promote safety among tribal communities. This groundbreaking project not only helps the three tribes but also serves as a model for other tribal agencies across the country to achieve technical integration.


From The Police Chief, vol. 74, no. 1, January 2007. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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