Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Under Public Law 280, 2003-2005 [United States] Archival Version


In 1953, Congress enacted Public Law 280, transferring federal criminal jurisdiction in Indian country to the state government in six states, allowing other states to join in at a later date. This study was designed to gain a better understanding of law enforcement under Public Law 280. Specifically, amid federal concerns about rising crime rates in Indian country and rising victimization rates among Indians, the National Institute of Justice funded this study to advance understanding of this law and its impact, from the point of view of tribal members as well as state and local officials. The research team gathered data from 17 confidential reservation sites, which were selected to ensure a range of features such as region and whether the communities were in Public Law 280 jurisdictions under mandatory, optional, excluded, straggler, or retroceded status. Confidential interviews were conducted with a total of 354 reservation residents, law enforcement officials, and criminal justice personnel. To assess the quality or effectiveness of law enforcement and criminal justice systems under Public Law 280, the research team collected quantitative data pertaining to the responsiveness, availability, quality, and sensitivity of law enforcement, and personal knowledge of Public Law 280.

The purpose of this study was to advance understanding of Public Law 280 and its impact, from the point of view of tribal members as well as state and local officials. This study aimed to answer five questions: How do crime rates on reservations affected by Public Law 280 compare with crime rates on other reservations and elsewhere within Public Law 280 states?; Is law enforcement more or less available or well funded for tribes affected by Public Law 280 as compared with non-Public Law 280 tribes, and elsewhere in Public Law 280 states?; What is the quality of state law enforcement and criminal justice under Public Law 280 in terms of cultural awareness and sensitivity, fairness of treatment, responsiveness to community priorities, thoroughness of investigations, etc., as compared with law enforcement and criminal justice in non-Public Law 280 jurisdictions?; Does the presence of state law enforcement inhibit or impair tribal legal development?; How effective have cooperative agreements, concurrent jurisdiction, and retrocession efforts been to alleviate any problems that may be associated with Public Law 280?;

Interviews were conducted at 17 different reservation sites over 2 years. A team of 3 researchers visited each of the sites for one week each, meeting with and interviewing a total of 354 individuals, including 227 reservation residents, 49 law enforcement personnel, and 78 criminal justice personnel. Reservation residents are people who lived on the reservation or worked for the tribal government, and generally have some connection to tribal government and/or criminal justice issues. Law enforcement personnel are people who worked for state/county or federal-Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) police departments, or tribal police in non-Public Law 280 jurisdictions. Criminal justice personnel are people who worked for federal-BIA, county, or non-Public Law 280 tribal courts. The interviews lasted from one to three hours. Each of the interviewees was provided with and signed a consent form. The interview instruments for each category of interviewee were similar and designed to facilitate comparisons. The research team made slight changes to adapt the instruments for the reservation residents, the state or federal law enforcement personnel, and the state or federal criminal justice personnel.

The dataset contains 56 variables pertaining to knowledge of Public Law 280, cultural awareness and sensitivity, communication with community members, fairness of treatment, thoroughness of investigations, community willingness to report crimes to police, and responsiveness to community priorities. It includes variables concerning occurences of homicide, rape, robbery, aggrivated assault, domestic violence, burglary, larceny, theft, vehicle theft, arson, DUI, drug offenses, and child abuse, as well as the perception of priority each respondent believes law enforcement assigns to each crime. These two factors are used to calculate a third variable for each offense regarding the difference between crime occurence and priority. Demographic variables include gender, respondent type, site, and Public Law 280 status.


ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection: Standardized missing values.; Checked for undocumented or out-of-range codes..

Presence of Common Scales: Several Likert-type scales were used.

Response Rates: Not available.

All reservation residents, law enforcement personnel, and criminal justice personnel living in or working with Native American reservations in the United States between 2003 and 2005. Smallest Geographic Unit: None.

The research team selected tribes for this study in order to obtain as much comparable tribal data as possible from Public Law 280 and non-Public Law 280 tribes. At the same time, the research team chose tribes from a variety of Public Law 280 and non-Public Law 280 situations so they could assess whether experiences differ as a result of those different circumstances. The constants in selecting tribes for the study were: a substantial and consistent size in acreage and population of reservation; reservation covering one county (when possible) for consistency of data; a written commitment to participate in the research and to abide by requirements for the protection of human subjects; The research team selected 17 tribes to participate in the study. Of the 17 sample communities, 12 were subject to state/county jurisdiction under Public Law 280, four were operating under the more typical federal/tribal criminal jurisdiction regime, and one was a "straddler" with some territory in a state covered by Public Law 280 and the remainder in a different state. The cases were selected and matched to ensure comparisons and inclusion of each of the different types of Public Law 280 conditions. Non-Public Law 280 comparison communities were selected as retroceded communities, stragglers, or never were under Public Law 280 jurisdiction. In order to test for variables the research team hypothesized might be important, such as degree of tribal control and availability of resources to support law enforcement and criminal justice, they deliberately included some Public Law 280 tribes that have tribal courts, cooperative agreements, and/or successful economic development enterprises.Three target groups of interviewees were identified: reservation residents and tribal officials; state, local, and federal law enforcement officers; state, local, and federal criminal justice officials; The reservation residents included the chief of tribal police or public safety (where there was one), the chief judge (where there was one), the tribal chair or other council members, tribal administrators or managers, and elders. Law enforcement officers invariably included the head of law enforcement for the state or federal government or that person's chief deputy, as well as other officers. Criminal justice officials included prosecutors, public defenders, and judicial officers at each site, as well as probation or parole officers.Additional interviewees were identified through the "snowballing" technique, in which an interviewee identifies others relevant to the study.The final sample of 354 interviewees included 227 reservation residents, 49 law enforcement personnel, and 78 criminal justice personnel.

Funding insitution(s): United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice (2001-IJ-CX-0031).

face-to-face interviewThe interviews with reservation residents, law enforcement personnel, and criminal justice personnel were comprised of both a qualitative and quantitative component. Only quantitative interview data are available as part of this data collection at this time.The project's report (Goldberg and Singleton, 2007; NCJ 222585) references law enforcement and criminal justice funding data, which are not available as part of this data collection at this time.

Metadata Access
Creator Goldberg, Carole; Champagne, Duane
Publisher ICPSR - Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research
Contributor United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice
Publication Year 2013
Rights Delivery; One or more files in this study are not available for download due to special restrictions; consult the study documentation to learn more on how to obtain the data.
OpenAccess true
Contact ICPSR - Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research
Language English
Resource Type Dataset; survey data
Discipline Social Sciences