The U.S. Department of Justice is dispatching 30 new prosecutors to jurisdictions that serve Indian Country. The new hires represent the department's first specific increase in Indian Country prosecutors in almost a decade, and they will target violent crime.
Smith is hopeful it will pay off.
"This is a big improvement, and if they follow through, it will be even better," he said. "A lot of times they say they're going to do things and they don't. This time it looks like they're really serious."
In announcing the $6 million initiative, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said that violent crimes, particularly against women and children, continue to devastate tribal communities at rates much higher than the national average.
The new prosecutors, along with a law enforcement grant program and the promise of an even bigger effort in fiscal 2011, are seen as a part of a new government commitment to fulfilling trust responsibility to the tribes.
Pine Ridge will also benefit from a pilot program pairing prosecutors with a victims' advocate. The Navajo Nation in New Mexico and the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin are also getting the new two-person teams.
South Dakota U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson said his office wants to work more closely with tribal prosecutors, and has offered technical assistance to the Oglala Sioux to ease the overburdened court system.
"They have such a high volume of cases," he said. "Obviously at the tribal court level, if you're not addressing the simple assaults the concern is that, over time, those simple assaults become aggravated assaults."
Smith said that with gangs, officers often concentrate on minor crimes and aren't able to keep repeat and violent offenders off the street.
"We can't keep records on them, (so) we can't get the more serious crimes prosecuted," said Smith, estimating the tribe's police department is at least 25 years behind others in the country.
Arizona received the highest number of the 30 new prosecutors with five, followed by Montana with three, and New Mexico, Wyoming and South Dakota with two. Sixteen other districts (Alaska, Colorado, eastern Michigan, western Michigan, Minnesota, southern Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, northern New York, North Dakota, northern Oklahoma, western Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, eastern Washington and western Washington) received one prosecutor each.
The Justice Department's 2011 budget request includes an additional $22 million for a grant program to be used to hire and train tribal police officers, and purchase equipment.