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Crimes database is new tribal justice tool
27 December 2005

BISMARCK (UTN) - Tribal justice systems have a reputation for having a backlog of cases. Tribes often struggle with who might be responsible for the large caseload.

      Is it the courts? Is it law enforcement?

Dale W. Brien
Dale W. Brien demonstrated his crime data system at a law enforcement planning meeting at United Tribes Technical College.

      It could be neither.

      An experienced court director from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in northern North Dakota thinks the problem is paper, and he's doing something about it.

      Dale W. Brien believes that the tribal criminal justice system is plagued by stacks of paper that cause confusion, leading to duplication and inefficiency.

      Case in point.

      Brien tracked a backlog of approximately 1,200 outstanding warrants on Turtle Mountain. He found that 550 had already been taken care of. When he removed warrants monitored by other agencies, like extraditions and probations, and combined some who had multiple warrants, only about 200 remained.

      "It made a huge difference to be held accountable for 200 cases rather than 1,200," said Brien during a recent law enforcement planning meeting at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck. "Officers often have no way of knowing if warrants were served without sifting through files and reports. It wasn't that they weren't doing their job. They didn't have accurate information."

      Brien came up with what appears to be a model for sorting out the filing systems. He built a computerized system using readily available software.

      He was aided by the occurrence of a June 2003 fire that destroyed records at the tribal court building in Belcourt, ND.

      "The fire was a catalyst for starting interest in a system," said Brien. "It proved that back up was needed for those paper files and that we needed a user friendly system."

      At first some people in the criminal justice system were skeptical.

      "The clerks were suspicious because they thought we were going to use it to watch them," said Brien.

      Brien started by identifying what data to collect. Although he wasn't a computer whiz, he devised a data base program of his own and began entering information from warrants, court orders, receipts and other criminal justice documents.

      "It was quite a bit of work," said Brien. "It takes a motivated coordinator."

      Brien's system removed duplications in the system and made it easy for law officers and court workers to see the status of any case. His goal is to have clerks schedule the court cases around the availability of the officers, who often don't get vacations because of the dual demands of police work and court follow-up.

      Turtle Mountain is apparently the only reservation to have its justice system data assembled and computerized in this way.

      Not only will it help clarify the situation with backlogs but the system devised by Brien can be used as a basis for analyzing crime statistics.

      "We can isolate crimes by any number of factors and show where they're coming from and other information about them," said Brien. "It can be extremely useful for identifying needs in a timely way for funding purposes and for staffing."

      The system can also be used to create specific data bases and information about juvenile crimes, sex offenders and drug cases.

      Another potential benefit is to connect tribal law enforcement together with a similar statewide system intended for law agencies in counties and cities.

      "I don't mean to say that Turtle Mountain is perfect at this point but the data collection system has made a huge difference in the last few years," he said.

      Brien believes that his crime data system can be implemented at other tribal agencies that suffer from the burden of paper work.


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