Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced the formation of a new Missing and Murdered Unit (MMU) within the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services (BIA-OJS). The unit will investigate missing and murdered Native Americans and Alaska Natives.
About 84 percent of Native women experience violence in their lifetimes, and 56 percent experience sexual violence, according to the National Institute of Justice. Murder is the third leading cause of death of Indigenous women between the ages of 10 and 24.
Approximately 1,500 American Indian and Alaska Native missing persons have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) throughout the U.S., and approximately 2,700 cases of murder and non-negligent homicide offenses have been reported to the Federal Government’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. Still, that figure was likely grossly undercounted due to limited data collection by law enforcement.
“Violence against Indigenous peoples is a crisis that has been underfunded for decades. Far too often, murders and missing persons cases in Indian country go unsolved and unaddressed, leaving families and communities devastated,” Haaland said. “The new MMU unit will provide the resources and leadership to prioritize these cases and coordinate resources to hold people accountable, keep our communities safe, and provide closure for families.”
The new initiative builds on 2019's Operation Lady Justice (OLJ), which was formed to pursue these unresolved cases. The Department is also designating new positions with existing federal funding to support the investigative needs of the MMU, including the collection and analysis of performance data and coordination of services with the families of victims.
Investigations remain unsolved often due to a lack of investigative resources available to identify new information from witness testimony, re-examine new or retained material evidence, and review fresh activities of suspects. The MMU, in addition to reviewing unsolved cases, will immediately begin working with Tribal, BIA and FBI Investigators on active Missing and Murdered investigations.
The MMU will also enable the Department to expand its partnerships, including those with the DOJ’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Units (BAUs), the FBI Forensic Laboratory, the US Marshals Missing Child Unit (MCU) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
“Whether it’s a missing family member or a homicide investigation, these efforts will be all hands-on deck,” Haaland said. “We are fully committed to assisting Tribal communities with these investigations, and the MMU will leverage every resource available to be a force-multiplier in preventing these cases from becoming cold case investigations.”
For more information, please visit Missing and Murdered Unit (MMU)–Operation Lady Justice.