Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
AMBER Alert National Conference
AMBER Alert in Native American Communities
July 19, 2006
Thank you, Ron [Laney] . . . again. I'm delighted to be back for this session focusing on AMBER Alert in Native American communities.
Ms. Johnson [Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)], I appreciate your words. I look forward to joining you at your conference in October. I enjoyed meeting with NCAI President Joe Shirley and others earlier today at the Navajo Nation.
This is a great opportunity for us in the Office of Justice Programs. And it's a chance for me to continue acting on a commitment I made before I came to the agency.
The issues facing tribes have always been very important to me. Before being appointed Assistant Attorney General, I was head of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, where I served under Secretary Tommy Thompson - a true champion of tribal communities.
One of my proudest accomplishments at HHS was the development of the Tribal Consultation Policy that is now in effect there. That policy opened communication between tribes and the Department, and it has helped to streamline the process of soliciting feedback from tribal leaders on HHS policies and issues. I believe the agency is more responsive to tribal needs as a result.
My appointment as Assistant Attorney General gave me a new opportunity to help strengthen the relationship between tribes and the federal government at the Department of Justice. It's an opportunity that I am privileged to have.
The chief responsibility of the Office of Justice Programs is to provide communities the support they need to address the problems associated with crime. And we believe we have a special responsibility to tribal communities.
I take that responsibility seriously because I know the challenges that tribal officials face in keeping their communities safe. Our own Bureau of Justice Statistics tells us that the rate of violent victimization among American Indians and Alaska Natives is two-and-a-half times the national average.
Making matters especially troublesome is the lack of resources for fighting crime. I mentioned in my remarks yesterday how thinly spread tribal law enforcement is. A typical police department in Indian country has three officers serving a population of 10,000 people in an area about the size of Delaware. There's no doubt that public safety on American Indian lands has many challenges.
I recently established a Justice Programs Council on Native American Affairs. The purpose of this council is to coordinate OJP's and the Justice Department's efforts on behalf of tribes. In this council, progress has been made, and we look forward to launching a comprehensive DOJ tribal Web site in the coming months.
As you know, one of my key areas of concern is protecting children. And I believe that AMBER Alert can be a cornerstone of our efforts in that department.
As I mentioned yesterday, one of things that I'm most excited about is that AMBER has become a deterrent to would-be abductors. More and more, we're seeing abductors hastily abandoning their schemes when an AMBER Alert is issued.
This, to me, is the best reason for expanding AMBER into Indian country.
Tribes can play an important part in strengthening our AMBER Alert network. We have already held meetings to identify ways to improve coordination with tribes, but I look forward to hearing about the progress made over the course of this week.
I recognize that it will take work to make our link with Indian country seamless. But I'm prepared to leverage our resources to support tribes in their involvement with the national AMBER Alert network.
We've already seen some AMBER successes with Native American children. Last October, in Bismarck, North Dakota, two 13-year-old girls got into a car with two men at a shopping mall. Apparently, the meeting had been arranged through online chats. Once law enforcement officials learned about the Internet exchanges, they issued an AMBER Alert.
An employee at a local motel saw the alert on television and notified authorities that they were staying there. Shortly thereafter, the suspects were arrested and the girls were safely recovered.
As with so many AMBER cases, I shudder to think what might have happened had an alert not been issued. Instead of breathing a sigh of relief, I could be describing a terrible tragedy.
Those two girls are among the 278 children who have been safely recovered because of AMBER Alert. That's almost 300 young lives that have been saved by this amazing system. I think that's a pretty good record.
I'd like to build on that record. But that doesn't necessarily mean I want to see more recoveries. After all, you can't have a recovery without an abduction, and my hope is that the very presence of AMBER will drive down the number of abductions. This is where I think AMBER has its greatest effect, and I want AMBER to be a deterrent in Indian country as well.
AMBER touches many areas of child safety. The Bismarck case I just mentioned is a prime example. It hits an area that Attorney General Gonzales and we in the Office of Justice Programs are working hard to address and stop - the use of computers and the Internet to facilitate sex crimes against children.
I'm aware that the Internet is not exactly a household presence in many tribal communities. But that is changing. More and more people every year are receiving Internet service, whether at home, at school, or in libraries and community centers. And young people are its most frequent users.
They use it to get information, but they also use it to communicate. And this is where it can become dangerous. Let me give you a few statistics:
By one estimate, some 50,000 predators are trolling the Internet for children at any given time.
Our own Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention tells us that one child in every five receives a sexual solicitation or approach online.
Further, one in 33 is aggressively solicited. That means that he or she gets a call, mail, money, or gifts from a pedophile, or is somehow asked to meet the solicitor.
These predators also are increasingly sadistic. A recent report from OJJDP gives a disturbing profile of child pornographers. According to the report, most pornographers have images of prepubescent children and of graphic depictions of sexual activity. And one in five has images of sexual violence to children.
We're not talking about a few harmless pictures. These are portraits of shocking crimes against the youngest members of our society. And sadly, this practice is widespread and growing, with younger and younger victims.
On May 17 this year, the Attorney General launched Project Safe Childhood. Project Safe Childhood is a Justice Department initiative aimed at preventing the online exploitation and abuse of children.
It has two components: First, it is designed to help families take precautions against online predators. It includes a program to raise awareness of the threat of cyber-enticement, and provides tools and information to parents and kids to help them report possible violations.
Its second component is in the area of investigation and enforcement. Our Internet Crimes Against Children, or ICAC, Task Force Program is the foundation of Project Safe Childhood. ICAC task forces comprise law enforcement officials and investigators from all levels, and they are deployed to respond to cybercrime cases involving children.
We now support 46 ICAC task forces throughout the country. The one here in New Mexico is managed by the state attorney general's office.
The task forces have played a critical role in stopping Internet criminal activity targeting children. Since the inception of the program in 1998, ICAC task forces have made more than 7,300 arrests.
The Bismarck AMBER case is a good example of why their efforts and the efforts of law enforcement generally are so important. When pedophiles go online in search of children, they're not satisfied with exchanging a few lewd comments. They're building a rapport in the hope of gaining physical access. That is their goal.
The Internet is not available to every child in Indian country at the moment, but many are using it, and more will use it as time goes on. We have a responsibility to make sure that this growing market of users is not a fertile breeding ground for sick criminals.
We're also working in other areas to protect Native American children. Through the Tribal Victim Assistance Program and the Children's Justice Act Partnerships for Indian Communities Program, our Office for Victims of Crime has funded scores of tribes to enhance victim services.
These programs offer counseling, traditional healing, and advocacy for child victims, and they help to improve tribal approaches to the investigation and prosecution of physical and sexual abuse cases. This year, we expect to award more than $5 million to support about 20 additional tribal victim assistance programs.
We are also working to help Native American children who are victims of drug abuse, especially those suffering the devastating consequences of methamphetamine.
Meth has become a serious and growing problem in communities across the country, and it's taking its toll in Indian country. Because of complicated jurisdictional issues, the low ratio of law enforcement officers to residents, and the proximity of some tribal lands to international borders, tribal communities have been targeted by meth traffickers.
The Justice Department is part of an Administration-wide effort to curb meth use, and OJP is making a concerted effort to fight meth in Indian country. The Attorney General recently visited the Yakima reservation in Washington State to discuss meth with tribal, federal, and state law enforcement officials. He talked about the Department's ongoing efforts to combat the problem, and he announced our new meth training initiative for tribal law enforcement.
A major concern of OJP is the impact of meth on children. Parents who manufacture meth sometimes cook the drug with their children nearby, exposing them to highly toxic fumes and other hazards. Parents who are addicts may go on binges lasting several days, leaving their children entirely neglected. And extended use of meth often leads to changes in temperament, which could lead to child abuse.
One of our important efforts is a new initiative to develop a National Drug Endangered Children Resource Center. The resource center will provide critical information to tribes, states, federal agencies, and local communities on how to help children hurt by drugs, including meth.
I believe that all these efforts go hand in hand with AMBER. AMBER is no longer just an emergency response system, it is an honest-to-goodness crime-fighting tool. And as far as I'm concerned, because it protects children, it is one of the best crime-fighting tools we have.
I want to make sure that our friends in tribal communities have the maximum benefit of that tool, because they deserve to know that their children are being protected.
As the National AMBER Alert Coordinator, I look to you for feedback and guidance on how we can improve AMBER's effectiveness in Indian country. Hopefully, you are already working closely with your state coordinators. But if not, I encourage you to get to know each other this week. I also encourage you to share your thoughts directly with me and my staff.
I'm excited about the possibilities in our work with tribes. AMBER Alert has shown itself to be a strong criminal deterrent, and any time crime is deterred, the quality of life goes up. I am confident that it will have the same effect in Indian country.
I look forward to continuing our work together and to helping you make AMBER work in your communities.