Creating the Comprehensive Indian Resources for Community and Law Enforcement (CIRCLE) Project

Historically, many Native American nations had effective, socially centered systems of governance. [1] With the growing dominance of western culture, indigenous methods of governance and social control began to wane. By the late 20th century, these losses combined with other impacts of colonization could have contributed to significant crime and public safety problems in Indian Country. Reports of violent crime, victimization, domestic abuse, drug-related crime and gang activity dominated the conversation about reservation policing.[2]

In response to these concerns, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) began to look for better ways to support law enforcement and public safety in Indian Country. It invested in several initiatives to strengthen Native American nations' law enforcement and justice systems and, through evaluation, began to learn from them. These federal initiatives included:

  • The Tribal Strategies Against Violence Program.
  • The Indian Country Justice Initiative.
  • Tribal partnerships in the Weed and Seed programs.

With the U.S. Department of the Interior, DOJ convened the Executive Committee for Indian Country Law Enforcement Improvements to make recommendations to the President for improving safety in Indian Country. DOJ also recognized more American Indian tribes as eligible recipients of grant funds.

DOJ's efforts led to a three-year collaborative funding initiative known as the Comprehensive Indian Resources for Community and Law Enforcement (CIRCLE) Project.[3] The CIRCLE Project provided $46.4 million in grants between federal fiscal year 1999 and fiscal year 2001 [4] to the Pueblo of Zuni, Northern Cheyenne Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe. Tribes were encouraged to use grant funds to:

  • Buy equipment and computer technology.
  • Hire and train law enforcement personnel.
  • Build corrections facilities.
  • Enhance tribal courts.
  • Create or improve juvenile justice programs.
  • Improve victim services for women and children.


[note 1] A system of governance is "a set of rules — institutions — that societies put in place to organize themselves and get done what they need to get done, and the mechanisms they use to implement and enforce those rules" (Manley A. Begay, Stephen Cornell, Miriam Jorgensen and Joseph P. Kalt, "Development, Governance, Culture: What Are They, and What Do They Have to Do with Rebuilding Native Nations?" in Miriam Jorgensen (ed.), Rebuilding Native Nations: Strategies for Governance and Development, Tucson: University of Arizona, p. 41.)

[note 2] See, for example, International Association of Chiefs of Police, "Improving Safety in Indian Country: Recommendations from the IACP 2001 Summit," Alexandria, Va., October 2001.

[note 3] The CIRCLE Project — the Comprehensive Indian Resources for Community and Law Enforcement — was a partnership of several agencies in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) with the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe and Pueblo of Zuni to strengthen the tribes' criminal justice systems. As part of the initiative, the National Institute of Justice and its DOJ partners funded an evaluation of the CIRCLE Project. Learn more about the CIRCLE Project and its evaluation.

[note 4] Funds came from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Corrections Program Office, Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office for Victims of Crime, Office on Violence Against Women Office, and Office of the Comptroller. Some of this money would have been invested in Indian Country anyway; however, the native nations that participated in CIRCLE received between 40 percent and 400 percent more from participating DOJ agencies than comparable tribes.

Date Modified: January 20, 2010