Date of Award

Summer 2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Sociology & Criminal Justice

Committee Director

Mona J. E. Danner

Committee Member

Travis Linnemann

Committee Member

Scott Maggard

Committee Member

Jeffrey Ian Ross


Although American Indians and Alaskan Natives (AI/NA) compose just over 1% of the general population in the U.S., they experience higher rates of crime and violence than the total population and are dramatically over-represented in the criminal justice system. In light of these realities, the paucity of research on AI/NA crime, violence, and justice problems is appalling. What research does exist suggests that AI/NA crime and victimization is correlated with social problems such as poverty and illegal drug use which are linked to the social ills of colonialism. Drawing on the work of Loader (1997), this dissertation examines the perceptions of crime and justice among tribal police officers in Indian Country.

Police officers are charged by the state with the responsibility to maintain social control and seen as the authoritative discourse of crime and justice in society. Within their position, they have the ability to "diagnose" all crime related problems (Loader 1993). Given their unique position in society, the police also have the power to frame the discourse on crime and justice and their experiences influence public opinion and policy. Throughout Indian Country, tribal police officers possess unique knowledge about all crime-related problems and offer a discourse on crime and justice on reservations.

This dissertation uses in-depth interview methods to address the research question: What are the perceptions of crime and justice in Indian Country among tribal police officers? Interviews with 27 tribal police officers on a southeastern Indian reservation were conducted to explore the tribal police officers perceptions about crime and justice. The tribal police officers' perceptions revealed a tribal community suffering from high rates of prescription drug use that were correlated with property crimes and high levels of domestic violence and assaults. This is substantiated by the current crime data: as creators of discourse and community perceptions, the view of the criminal justice personal are reified in the community. The participants spoke about the tribal court system as dysfunctional due to inter-tribal politics, federal restrictions, and lenient tribal judges. Tribal police officers also portray the federal government as too often failing to prosecute serious crimes on the reservation. As a result, they believed that both the tribal and federal criminal justice systems did not adequately address crime on the reservation.


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