Better Data, More Leads: State Patrol Effort on Missing Indigenous People Begins to Pay Off | Local


Pullin began his role on Tuesday as the Eastern Washington Tribal Liaison for the Washington State Patrol. She worked closely with Patti Gosch, who was hired in November 2019 as the first full-time tribal liaison in State Patrol history. Like Gosch, Pullin’s role is new.

The posts were created to help deal with the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous peoples in Washington. Their work has already yielded more collaboration and information on cold cases.

Pullin has worked for Indian Health Services, Spokane Tribal Enterprises and their Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program which positively impacts her tribal nation which is important to her. She sought the post with the WSP for more personal reasons.

“Patti and I received a notification about a missing woman, now 8 years old, with her photo. When I saw her, I couldn’t help but think of my young granddaughter,” he said. Pullin said. “That’s my why.”

Native American women and girls have disappeared and suffered sexual and physical violence at disproportionate levels for decades. A report from the National Institute of Justice found that more than four in five Indigenous women have experienced violence in their lifetime. The Department of Justice said Indigenous women are 10 times more likely to be murdered than other Americans.

When Pullin was 20, his mother was murdered. While dealing with the profound loss, she worked with investigators from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and then prosecutors throughout the investigation and court process.

That was a long time ago, Pullin says. But as she and countless others know, that pain never leaves her. Living with such a painful loss while seeking answers and justice in an intimidating maze of municipal, tribal and federal agencies is often overwhelming. Families do not know where to turn. They feel disrespectful, ignored.

“Fulfilling my role and making the greatest contribution we can make to help families and our tribal communities if they unfortunately find themselves in a horrific situation of a missing or murdered family / community member is now my job” , she said.

“I want to do everything I can to make sure that communication and, where possible, consistent, genuine and effective service systems are in place for those who need them.”

Improve data

The Tribal Liaison Posts were established by the 2019 legislation developed by State Representative Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale. Responsibilities include developing best practices for law enforcement response to missing person reports for Indigenous peoples. They work with family members when missing person reports are filed and provide advice on including tribal issues in the development of agency plans, programs and policies.

“The very nature of a bond is to build bridges. My intention is to work on developing a means of communication between the Washington State Patrol and the tribes of eastern Washington, ”said Pullin, who lives in Spokane.

Gosch was hired as a tribal liaison for western Washington a year ago, but filling the second position has been delayed by funding constraints related to the pandemic. Mosbrucker was happy to see Pullin hired.

“It’s going to make a big difference in finding tribal members all over Washington state,” Mosbrucker said. “She will do a great job, as will (Gosch). I am grateful and look forward to great results. We’re going to check in with them throughout the session, see if they need anything, and give us an update.

With Pullin in his role, Gosch will focus on tribal issues in western Washington, but they will work closely together, they said in a joint phone interview with Chris Loftis, director of communications for the State Patrol.

“I’m going to work shoulder to shoulder with Patti. We will continue to collaborate and form a team, ”Pullin said. “I feel like I’m going to learn so much from Patti and so much from Chris.”

“I’m really excited to be here,” she said.

When COVID-19 cases began to escalate in Washington, Gosch reconsidered his plans. Face-to-face meetings and outreach couldn’t happen, so she focused on the data. There is no central database or system to track the number of missing Indigenous people, and advocates point out that Indigenous people are often registered under incorrect ethnic groups.

When released, the report said 56 Indigenous women were missing in Washington. The Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle followed with the study “MMIWG: We Demand More” which criticized the data from the WSP. While there has not been a comprehensive study of racial misclassification in Washington state law enforcement data, a study conducted in hospitals in the Pacific Northwest found a 44% incidence of racial classification errors in Native American / Alaska Native patients, according to the institute report.

“The Washington State Patrol has found 56 indigenous women missing in Washington State, but estimating the possibility of a 44% case of racial misclassification, that number could reach 80,” a- he declared.

Gosch audited the state patrol’s case management system, Crime Investigation and Tracking of Evidence, “to try to find an actual number of missing persons as opposed to missing person reports,” she said.

Not all of the missing were reported missing, Gosch said, while some have been reported missing multiple times.

“We always find people who are not correctly identified in the database,” said Gosch, who searches for cases for family members who want to make sure their parent is in the system. “Often they are racially incorrect,” she said.

“We get a lot of out-of-state calls from family members missing in Washington state,” added Gosch, who also contacts investigative agencies when contacted by relatives. who want more information on the case of their loved one.

95 missing

It is not known exactly how many Indigenous people have gone missing, murdered and mysteriously died on and around the 1.3 million acre Yakama Reservation over the decades. Many cases of missing persons or mysterious deaths of women and men remain unsolved.

According to information presented by Gosch, there were 95 active reports of Native American Missing Persons in Washington state as of November 16. Thirty-two of those cases were in Yakima County – by far the highest total of any counties. Only King County was close, with 20.

Of the cases in Yakima County, 24 involve Yakama Nation Police; two with the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, five with the Yakima Police Department, and one with the Toppenish Police Department.

The oldest missing person case of the 95 active cases of missing adults and indigenous minors in Washington is that of a young Yakama woman who went missing almost 49 years ago.

Janice Hannigan was a student at White Swan High School when she disappeared after being released from hospital on Christmas Eve 1971 for treatment of numerous bruises on her head and chest. Her sister, Trudi Lee Clark, died in December 2018 without an answer.

The state patrol is working with one of the Operation Lady Justice Task Force’s federal cold affairs offices on older missing persons cases, Gosch said. Operation Lady Justice was created to deal with the missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.

There are cold case offices in Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, New Mexico, Arizona, and Alaska. Gosch and others referred cold cases to federal investigators. It will continue.

“We’ve already given them names,” Gosch said.

Precise data, then solutions

Gosch stressed that she is not working on the data alone. “I have worked a lot with tribal law enforcement, I have also worked with municipal law enforcement, advocacy groups and social media networks to get the information corrected,” a- she declared.

“With the help of everyone involved, we actually found people,” she said. “We are making progress. “

As work to improve data continues, Gosch and Pullin will also work to close communication gaps between law enforcement and other organizations.

“Once we’ve done these things, what do we want to do faster? It’s kind of the next step, ”Loftis said. “Eventually we’ll get to the point where we really engage the community; be proactive to educate and be preventive ”so that Aboriginal people are not missing.

“We have wanted this job to be done for a long time,” he said. “There was a hunger for it, but no one was assigned to it.”


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