AG announces new steps to tackle missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives crisis

Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced a new public-facing portal for information to help with the missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives crisis in New Mexico on Tuesday. This will be in addition to a new task force and state budget allocation also aimed at helping with the crisis. The portal will include a database […]

AG announces new steps to tackle missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives crisis

Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced a new public-facing portal for information to help with the missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives crisis in New Mexico on Tuesday. This will be in addition to a new task force and state budget allocation also aimed at helping with the crisis.

The portal will include a database built from the data collected and vetted by the FBI and it will be the most accurate list of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives in the state of New Mexico, Torrez told NM Political Report. He said one of the components to the database that will be really beneficial is that the families of the missing and murdered will be able to view the data in real time. 

He said that if an Indigenous person is believed to be the victim of a crime, and the person is not in the database, the family will be able to find the information about which law enforcement agency to contact to initiate an investigation. The database will also connect Tribal law enforcement with law enforcement agencies outside of Tribal land so that the information on the victims is not siloed. Torrez said another feature he expects to be built into the functionality of the database will be to allow for nonnative law enforcement to know which Tribe or Pueblo the missing or murdered Indigenous person is a member. That is a function that has been missing from the current reporting system and Torrez aims to fix it with the new database in time.

“We find that someone in an urban environment in Albuquerque, they file a report and check a box that someone is Indigenous but [the form] doesn’t give you more specific information, what Tribal community they come from. This will simultaneously notify the Albuquerque Police Department and [the Tribe or Pueblo]. It connects that Tribal law enforcement agency with the responsible detective in state jurisdiction and enable collaboration, sharing tips and information,” Torrez said to NM Political Report.

He said that his office identified these problems as barriers and that the lack of information sharing created jurisdictional silos.

“Getting real time information sharing and collaboration between law enforcement agencies is critically important to recovering and finding these individuals,” Torrez said.

He said the functionality of the database will be improved upon and in subsequent phases of the database, it will enable law enforcement collaboration and give the public clear information on the Indigenous missing and murdered women and relatives.

In addition to the database, Torrez said his office will be working to build a new missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives task force in response to Senate Joint Memorial 2, which requested the task force. The legislature separately allocated $200,000 to the New Mexico Department of Justice, formerly known as the Office of the Attorney General, to assist with the task force. 

Torrez said the allocation will be dedicated to supporting the task force and that its work will likely require staffing needs and reporting needs. He said the task force has very specific demographic requirements and it will take some time to identify people to represent those constituencies. He said he expects the new task force will think carefully about new ways to “not only identify vulnerable members of those communities and so we can help them not only after they are reported as missing but begin the work of figuring out what can be done to lower domestic violence and human trafficking and other harms and forms of violence.”

Indigenous people have higher rates of violence and poverty than nonnative communities.

“We will work very hard to have the right kind of expertise and diverse viewpoints to make sure we have all of the voices that the legislature believes necessary to combat this issue. It is my hope they will be able to give us a comprehensive blueprint,” Torrez said.

He said the rates of violence for Indigenous people are “way too high and unacceptable” and that he will be looking for voices for the task force who can help with comprehensive solutions. He said that it will also require substantial resources in the years to come and require a new level of collaboration. 

Tiffany Jiron, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, also told NM Political Report that the $200,000 is not enough and that she hopes the amount will increase over time.

“It’s very needed as families are impacted as they are still searching for their loved ones,” she said.

Jiron said she would like to see a larger allocation come from the legislature to provide programming for families of missing and murdered Indigenous individuals. She said funding is needed for things such as support services and trauma-informed care services. She said families who must travel across the state in search of their loved ones need funding for fuel and lodging so they can travel from place to place, in addition to help offset costs for things such as flyers and billboards to advertise the missing.

“It’s very important when it comes to our Indigenous families here in New Mexico. A lot more of our relatives go missing than non-native relatives,” she said.

Torrez acknowledged that the database will not solve some of the larger jurisdictional issues widely considered to be the root cause of the problem, namely that non-natives cannot be held accountable in Tribal court. 

“The portal won’t be able to address larger challenges of jurisdictional limitations and a lot of complexity and overlapping jurisdiction,” he said. 

He said that is a “more complicated problem to address,” and that it “entails a lot of direct communication.”

“We haven’t had enough of that in this space and we need law enforcement together in the same room,” he said.

But, Torrez said it’s really important for the public to understand that NMDOJ is committed to tackling the issue. 

“We need to have a long-term focus and long-term commitment to these issues and that requires dedicated funding and resources and public engagement sustainable over the longer term.”

Torrez called the task force and the $200,000 allocation “good first steps” but he said he will have a number of requests for law enforcement and prevention for the legislature next year and expects to have a comprehensive strategy to share with the legislature in time for the 2025 session. He said he expects the task force to be up and running by sometime this summer.

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