New office in New Mexico to focus on Indigenous cold cases

Published 4:03 pm Wednesday, August 12, 2020

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — U.S. officials have opened an office in New Mexico dedicated to investigating cold cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous people. 
The office in Albuquerque is part of an effort to address violence against Native Americans and Alaska Natives, particularly women and girls. 
It’s the fourth of seven offices that are being established across the country as part of the Operation Lady Justice Task Force created via executive order by President Donald Trump in November. 
The goal is to develop protocols for law enforcement to respond to missing and slain indigenous persons cases and to improve data collection.
“We want to see victims and their families receive closure, and will direct our efforts towards that goal,” said Tara Katuk Sweeney, the U.S. Interior Department’s assistant secretary for Indian affairs. “The Albuquerque cold case office is joining those in Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana that are beginning the work of resolving their cold cases.” 
Other offices will be established in Arizona, Alaska and Tennessee. They’ll be staffed with special agents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and will coordinate efforts by local, federal and tribal law enforcement personnel to address what federal officials described as a staggering number of people from tribal communities who have gone missing or have been killed.
Since 2019, officials with the Interior Department and Bureau of Indian Affairs say they have undertaken a number of efforts to address the crisis, from conducting more criminal investigations to battling illicit drug activity and sex trafficking. 
A partnership also was formed with the U.S. Justice Department’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, which has led to the development of new tribal-affiliation data fields to help law enforcement capture information to track cases of missing and murdered persons in Indian Country. Officials say there has been a 60% increase in Indigenous-person entries into the system since last year.

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