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Dealers using reservation for drug distribution

From White Mountain Independent Online

Dealers using reservation for drug distribution

Posted: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 5:00 am | Updated: 8:54 am, Wed Oct 13, 2010.

WHITE MOUNTAINS - The number one issue with substance abuse on Native-American reservation lands has been and continues to be alcohol, but there seems there may be a shift in the illegal drug of choice among young people on The Mountain, including "anglo" communities and The White Mountain Apache Reservation.

According to local law enforcement it looks like there may not only be a shift from methamphetamine to heroin in local communities including Whiteriver, but the people selling the drugs appear to be using the Native-American reservation lands as a haven from law enforcement.

Having said that, Phoenix region Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Jim Molesa does not agree.

He said DEA data gathered nationally does not indicate a switch from meth to heroin on reservation lands, or that drug dealers are using them as a base of operations.

The White Mountain Apache Reservation encompasses 2,628 square miles with a population of 12,429 people according to the 2000 Census.

The majority of those living on the Reservation reside in Whiteriver, Hon Dah, East Fork, Seven Mile, Cedar Creek, Concho and McNary.

Depending on whom one talks to, it could be drug cartels are simply being opportunistic and seeking out the communities, or wilderness, of least resistance.

Tom Wallace with the National Congress of American Indians says it is probably not a case of drug cartels specifically targeting reservation communities as havens, rather that they are gravitating to those areas because of the market, remoteness, unoccupied expanses of open space and sometimes understaffed law enforcement agencies under the assumption they can operate undetected.

The Fort Apache Reservation encompasses 2,628 sq. mi., with a population of only 12,429 people as of the 2000 census, patrolled by only 19 Reservation police.

According to NCAI information, Mexican drug cartels have contributed to a surge in meth use on reservations as well as using those lands on which to hide.

Illegal drugs know no geographical, cultural, economic or political boundaries. They are just as prevalent in reservation or non-reservation communities. Pinetop-Lakeside Police Lt. David Sargent has said on several occasions that meth abuse definitely exists in surrounding communities like Pinetop-Lakeside, Show Low, St. John's and Taylor-Snowflake.

"These drug cartels have targeted reservation communities because of the rural terrain, history of community addiction and limited law enforcement resources," according to NCAI officials.

"The one thing that I can say that has happened in the last few months is the passage of the Tribal Law and Order serve some of the jurisdictional challenges that basically slowed down the process of enforcing law whether it be state or local law or Tribal law and I want to direct you to that because that is a significant tool for the reduction of crime across the board but also for minimizing drug trafficking and prosecution of offenders. There have been some loopholes (in the past) and sort of jurisdictional problems with the ability of tribes to prosecute (successfully) beyond certain periods of time once they have somebody in custody," Wallace says.

He added that the vastness of reservation lands is one of the biggest problems Tribal law enforcement has had to deal with noting that cross-deputization per the new act's requirement's is a significant step in putting more feet on the ground when needed.

"There is sort of this trend for people to kind of look at the inability of Tribes to have the authority to prosecute or pursue legal action against criminals...and I suspect that is what is happening with the drug dealing and the trafficking," Wallace said.

According to the Tribal Law and Order Act passed by Congress in April, 2009, less than 3,000 Tribal and Federal law enforcement officers patrol more than 56 million acres of Indian country nationwide, half of the law enforcement presence in comparable rural communities nationwide.

Reservation law enforcement officers regularly have to respond to potentially dangerous calls without backup in remote locations.

The force in Whiteriver is only 24 strong, with 19 officers on the road, not including BIA or FBI people.

Because of the remoteness of these locations, often Tribal law enforcement officers don't even have adequate radio communication or access to national crime information database systems to perform background/criminal checks on suspects.

That is the problem the 2009 Tribal Law and Order Act tries to address.

"We will use the tools in the Tribal Law and Order Act to crack down on crime and make our communities safer," NCAI President Jefferson Keel said after it was signed by President Barack Obama.

Those tools include: evidence sharing and declination data requiring federal prosecutors to maintain data on criminal declinations in Indian country, sharing evidence supporting prosecutions in Tribal Court, increasing Tribal Court sentencing authority from one to three years imprisonment where certain constitutional protections are met, federal testimony requiring federal officials working on reservations to testify about information gained in the scope of their duties to support a prosecution in Tribal Court, Tribal Police access to criminal history records, improved transparency in public safety spending by the BIA, increased sexual assault training and standardized protocols for handling sex crimes, increasing recruitment and retention efforts for BIA and Tribal Police, expanding training opportunities for BIA and Tribal Police, increasing deputizing of Tribal and state police, enhancing special law enforcement commission programs ,authorizing deputization of Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys ,authorizing the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to deputize tribal police to assist on reservation drug raids, programmatic reauthorizations improving existing programs designed to strengthen Tribal Courts, police departments, and corrections centers along with programs to prevent/treat alcohol/substance abuse, and improving opportunities for at-risk Indian youth.

As for the shift among youth from crystal methamphetamine to heroin in Navajo County, according to Sheriff K.C. Clark, is partly because the anti-meth campaign has worked so well that even users view it negatively and want to distance themselves from it, partly because of its availability and partly because heroin is being better refined now.

Clark said what was most common in the past, black tar heroin, is being better refined so that what law enforcement is seeing more and more of most recently is a "cleaner", more pure, white powdered heroin.

He said the powdered white heroin is easier to conceal and transport in greater volumes, meaning greater profits for suppliers.

That is not to say meth is no longer a problem nor is it a lesser one in The White Mountains.

According to the NCAI, Arizona's Yavapai-Apache Nation estimates upwards of 90 percent of their open child welfare cases are related to meth abuse.

Between 40-50 percent of violent crime on reservations throughout the U.S. is also attributable to its use. However 86 percent of sexual abuse crimes on reservation lands nationwide are perpetrated by non Native-Americans, according to Wallace.

NCAI statistics indicate 74 percent of Tribes cite meth as posing the single greatest threat to their communities.

In the next installment, drug abuse in non-native American White Mountain communities will be addressed.

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