In a statement released on Friday, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced he has partnered state Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, and state Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Anacortes, to propose legislation creating a Cold Case Investigations Unit focused on solving cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people.
The primary purpose of the unit would be assisting local and tribal law enforcement agencies to solve cold cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous people.
“We must address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and people,” Ferguson said. “This bill not only honors the task force’s recommendation, it’s the right thing to do and is long overdue.”
Dhingra is sponsoring Senate Bill 5137 in the state Senate while Lekanoff is sponsoring a companion bill, House Bill 1177, in the state House. Both Dhingra and Lekanoff serve on the Washington State Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIWP) Task Force, which is facilitated by Ferguson’s office.
“The epidemic of missing and murdered women and people in the Indigenous community is finally being acknowledged and prioritized by policy makers,” said Dhingra, who chairs the Senate Law & Justice Committee. “Dedicating the resources and expertise necessary to solve the cases we already know about is the best way to bring justice for those we have lost. Funding awareness and training will help to prevent future tragedies.”
Lekanoff said addressing the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous people requires coordination at all levels of government.
“Only together can we address this threat to our communities, and housing the MMIWP Cold Case Unit within the Office of the Attorney General not only helps ensure needed resources are available, but also sends a message to Washington’s first peoples. A message that they are finally being seen and heard, and that Washington state is protecting them,” Lekanoff said.
According to Ferguson’s statement, Native American people experience violence at a higher rate than the rest of the population.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide is the sixth leading cause of death for Indigenous women and girls and the third leading cause of death for Indigenous men. A recent federal study reported Native American women are murdered at 10 times the national average in some jurisdictions.
The Attorney General’s office shows Indigenous victims make up 5% of unresolved cases in Washington while making up less than 2% of the overall population. However, the actual disparity is likely higher due to reporting practices, racial misclassification, data collection and jurisdictional issues.
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