WASHINGTON — Senators, shocked by stories of skyrocketing violent crime on American Indian reservations, are considering forming a congressional commission to seek a solution.

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., called the increase in rapes, murders, gang shootings and brazen crimes on reservations in recent years "unbelievable" and said it is Congress' responsibility to fix it.

"We must find a way. This must stop," Dorgan said, as tribal leaders testified to the committee about their frustrations with the Bureau of Indian Affairs police and the Justice Department, which is responsible for major crimes on reservations.

The commission was the suggestion of former Minnesota U.S. Attorney Thomas Heffelfinger, who also testified. The Justice Department alone does not have the clout or the interest in fixing the problems, he said.

Heffelfinger had been on a list of prosecutors considered for termination until he resigned last year. Officials in the department had criticized him for spending too much time on Indian issues.

On Thursday, Heffelfinger said if that is the reason he was targeted to be fired, "It's shameful and embarrassing for the Department of Justice."

He agreed with senators questioning him that "it's not a coincidence" that most of the prosecutors targeted had been active on the same Indian subcommittee.

Heffelfinger, who has since joined a private law firm, said clashes between the U.S. attorneys and the department are common on Indian issues because the department views them as "local" and less important than national initiatives.

The agency's lack of interest means that "only a congressionally supervised and monitored group of experts and interested individuals can realistically meet this challenge," Heffelfinger said.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the agency is "firmly committed to combating crime in Indian country" and that no U.S. attorneys were removed because of their work related to Indian issues.

Tribal leaders said the problem of violent crime has grown worse with the rise of methamphetamine use and is exacerbated by the lack of police and confusing law enforcement jurisdictions that remain from a century of patchwork legislative action by Congress.

This spring, Amnesty International reported that Indian women are more than twice as likely to be raped as other U.S. women. Suspects often go free because of unclear police jurisdictions and lack of adequate forensic capabilities on reservations, the report found.

Criminal jurisdiction is shared by federal, state and tribal authorities. Which agency responds depends on where the crime occurs and whether the person involved is a tribe member.

Once law enforcement agencies sort out jurisdiction, it might take more than an hour to get to the far corners of a rural reservation. Even then, they often don't follow through.

In one case highlighted by Marcus Wells, chairman of the three affiliated tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation in New Town, N.D., six guns and body armor were stolen from the home of one of the tribe's own police officers. While BIA did interviews, it took no more action, he said.

Wells and others say the solution is to give tribes the ability to police all crimes on their land.

Justice Department officials say they also are trying to find a way around the jurisdictional problems. For example, a program started in Colorado by U.S. Attorney Troy Eid deputizes state, local and tribal officers to enforce federal law on Indian reservations.