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Tribes will get access to federal databases for gun checks, foster care

Martha Bellisle Associated Press

SEATTLE – Federal officials on Wednesday launched a new program that will allow tribes access to national criminal databases and fix a system that allowed a man to buy a gun that was later used by his son to kill four classmates and himself at a Washington high school.

Raymond Fryberg was the subject of a 2001 domestic violence restraining order issued by a Tulalip Tribal Court, which should have kept him from buying a firearm, but the restraining order was never sent to the federal criminal database used to check criminal histories during firearm purchases because of a breakdown in information sharing between tribes and outside authorities.

Fryberg’s 15-year-old son, Jaylen, shot the students and himself on Oct. 24, 2014, at Marysville-Pilchuck High School north of Seattle.

The Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information, or TAP, will allow federally recognized tribes to enter criminal records into and pull information out of national databases overseen by the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The program was announced during a conference hosted by the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Justice officials said the mass shooting by Fryberg in October drove home the importance of getting an effective system in place for all tribes.

“Empowering tribal law enforcement with information strengthens public safety and is a key element in our ongoing strategy to build safe and healthy communities in Indian country,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates said. “The Tribal Access Program is a step forward to providing tribes the access they need to protect their communities, keep guns from falling into the wrong hands, assist victims and prevent domestic and sexual violence.”

Michelle Demmert, a Tulalip tribal attorney who was at the conference in Oklahoma, said they’ve spent years working with federal officials to identify gaps in the criminal database system, and this announcement seems to say “the Department of Justice and the Office of Tribal Justice has heard the tribe’s voice.”

In addition to letting tribes submit data, TAP will also allow them to conduct background checks when a tribe needs to place a child with a foster parent in an emergency situation – another area tribes have long sought to have fixed.

Taking that a step further, the Bureau of Indian Affairs announced at the conference that it and the Office of Justice Services have created another program that will give tribal social service agencies 24-hour access to criminal history records to ensure the safe placement of children in foster care.

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