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Isleta investigator to lead new DOJ initiative

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Isleta Pueblo police investigator will be heading up the federal government’s response to cases involving missing and murdered indigenous people.

U.S. Attorney John Anderson said in a news release Tuesday that Denise Billy will serve as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Person Coordinator for the District of New Mexico.

“Ms. Billy served in many law enforcement capacities for years, which I believe will suit her well in this new position,” Anderson said in a news release.

Billy, who served as a Navajo Nation patrol officer and a criminal investigator before joining the Isleta department, will gather data to identify MMIP cases connected to New Mexico’s 22 tribal nations. She will also assist in the creation and implementation of community action plans.

“I look forward to continuing to serve tribal communities here in the heart of Indian Country,” Billy said. “This issue is of utmost importance to me and to our Tribal Nations.”

Isleta Police Chief Sylvester Stanley said Billy has been a valuable asset to his department.

“While she is leaving as an employee, we are pleased that she will still be assisting us on several issues from her new position,” he said.

Billy is the first coordinator under a new Department of Justice initiative established in November 2019 to address the issue of missing and murdered indigenous people.

Her duties will include coordinating with tribal, local, state and federal law enforcement to develop protocols and procedures for responding to and addressing MMIP cases.

While officials on both the state and federal level have expressed an interest in collaboration, the federal initiative is separate from the state Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force established by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham late last year.

According to a 2018 report by the Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle, 37 indigenous women and girls have been reported missing or murdered in Albuquerque since 1996, making the city second only to Seattle in the country in reported cases. In urban New Mexico – that includes Albuquerque, Farmington, Gallup and Santa Fe – 78 women and girls were reported missing or murdered since 1956, making it the state with the highest instances of violence against Native American females.

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