A study of the relationship between the Rapid City Police Department and the city's Native American community provides eight specific recommendations to improve the rapport. The study was conducted over 15 months and completed by Rich Braunstein of the University of South Dakota's Government Research Bureau along with seven Native American research assistants.
The report was released Nov. 10, and a community presentation and discussion was held at the Mother Butler Center featuring a presentation by Braunstein, an introduction by Police Chief Karl Jegeris and a speech by Vaughn Vargas, Cultural Advisory Coordinator for the RCPD and enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
Here is a summary of those eight recommendations, which can be read in their entirety on pages 46-52 in the pdf file attached to this post.
Build a More Diverse Officer Corps - Not only should the police department hire more Native American officers, it should create a Native Task Force -- ideally staffed by Native officers.
During his presentation on Nov. 10, Braunstein expressed concern that pervasive anti-police attitudes in the Native community represent a substantial barrier to young Native Americans beginning careers in law enforcement. He said he has talked with several Native students at USD who have completed military service. When he suggests parlaying military experience into a law enforcement job, he gets consistent responses: "My grandmother would kill me," or "I couldn't show my face," or "My cousins would disown me."
Both in his presentation and in his written report, Braunstein expressed his belief that without a shift in attitude throughout the Native community, there is little hope of hiring Native American police officers in Rapid City.
The report reads: "It is unreasonable to expect RCPD to make progress in this area on its own. Though RCPD has demonstrated its commitment to Native recruiting efforts, it has traditionally done so internally and without substantial support from the Native Community. Going forward, our recommendation is that the Native Community must, on its own, address the underlying substantive and psychological barriers to creating stronger interest in public service in this capacity."
Enhance Collaborative Problem Solving Through the Creation of a Native Advisory Council -- Creating a formal role for the Native community provides an important avenue to build trust between the police and Native Americans. The council should provide a two-way dialoge, ongoing mutual education and help build stronger relationships between the two groups. The council should expect to experience setbacks, but dealing with these would be part of the process. The council should be made up of key Native community members, broader community organizations and members of the police department.
Develop a Certificate for Officers in Native Policing -- Officers who learn about the Native community's cultural norms plus other Native policing expertise would earn a patch to be worn on their uniforms. The patch would let Native Americans know which officers have completed the training. The training should be done on a peer-to-peer basis and made available through a flexible schedule that allows officers to continue patrol work.
Develop Partnerships with Mutual Benefits -- The Native Advisory Council should choose how the police department could target its time and staff to collaborate on existing community programs, such as the public school's program to prevent truancy. These partnerships should be formalized through memoranda of understanding.
Develop Proactive Depolicing Strategies -- As both an effort to improve trust among the Native community and to identify more long-term benefits to alternative approaches to certain low-level offenses, Rapid City police should consider ways to deal with certain crimes other than arrest. The report urges this especially for Native youth. For example, youth caught with alcohol could be diverted into a mentorship program in which Native adults and elders would monitor and assess the youth's actions. Depolicing should be seen as a proactive, positive move to improve relations and not as a way for police to avoid criticism or cease dealing with crimes and offenses by Native Americans.
Make Race a Required Field in Victimization Reports -- The rate of RCPD cases where the race of a victim was not known was 32.3 percent, much higher than unknown race in traffic stops, arrests or any other area.
Develop a 5-Year Community Policing Plan -- The Native Advisory Council should develop a strategic plan for community policing and evaluate how individual programs serve the overall strategy.
Develop a Community Policing Program Performance Evaluation Approach, Administered Yearly -- Using data from the USD report as a baseline, an evaluation tool should be developed by the Native Advisory Council and the RCPD leadership to measure areas of improvement or lack of improvement. Such a system would allow the RCPD to assess trends and to better serve the community. "Longitudinal analysis of baseline performance will increase the department’s capacity to strategically invest in programs and policies that serve community needs, including the needs of RCPD officers to be regarded with greater respect, civility and trust by Native Community members," reads the report.
Read more from the Black Hills Knowledge Network's Native Data series, including more details from the USD report on RCPD and Native policing.