The cold case unit’s creation in the Attorney General’s Office was a key recommendation of the state MMIWP Task Force
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee today signed a new law that establishes a Cold Case Unit in the Attorney General’s Office focused on solving cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and people.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson partnered with Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Anacortes, to propose House Bill 1177. The Washington State Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women & People (MMIWP) Task Force, which is facilitated by Ferguson’s office, unanimously recommended establishing a cold case unit in the Attorney General’s Office in its first report. Lekanoff and companion bill sponsor Sen. Manka Dhingra, D- Redmond, both serve on the MMIWP Task Force. The legislation passed unanimously.
“Thanks to the work of the task force, my office will be the first Attorney General’s Office in the country with a cold case unit dedicated to seeking justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women and people,” Ferguson said. “We look forward to assisting law enforcement agencies with these cases and bringing justice and answers to Indigenous families.”
“The rate of missing and murdered Indigenous women is a public safety crisis,” Lekanoff said. “We can and we must do better to advocate for the safety of Indigenous people in Washington. This bill is about valuing the lives of Indigenous women. It’s about making sure their lives matter. It’s about making sure my life matters.”
“Thanks to the tireless work of the task force — and especially to the families of the missing Indigenous women and people — this epidemic is finally being recognized and prioritized by policymakers,” said Dhingra, chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee. “This new unit will go a long way to provide resources for the continual investigation of cold cases with the hope that we can bring justice for those we have lost.”
American Indian and Alaskan Native women and people experience violence at much higher rates than other populations. The National Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports that 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 that Native American women are murdered at rates 10 times the national average in some jurisdictions.
According to data from the Homicide Investigation Tracking System in the Attorney General’s Office, Indigenous victims are 5% of the unresolved cases throughout the state, while making up less than 2% of the population. Due to reporting practices, racial misclassification, data collection and jurisdictional issues, the actual disparity is likely even more significant.
The legislation creates a cold case unit within the Attorney General’s Office for the primary purpose of assisting local and tribal law enforcement agencies to solve cold cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous women and people.
The unit will include investigators and a case navigator whose primary function is to work with and maintain regular, consistent communication with families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and people, and to convey information between the investigators and families using culturally appropriate and trauma informed practices.
For more information on the MMIWP Task Force, visit the Task Force’s web page at https://www.atg.wa.gov/washington-state-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-and-people-task-force, or contact Annie Forsman-Adams at email@example.com.
Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org
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