Tim Giago: Few Native officers within Rapid City police department

The following was written by Tim Giago, Native Sun News editor and publisher. All content © Native Sun News.

Tim Giago. Photo by Talli Nauman

Where are the Native Americans on the Rapid City Police Department?
By Tim Giago
Native Sun News Editor/Publisher

Ever since the late 1800s when Rapid City began to grow as a city there has been a bone of contention between Indians and the city’s law enforcement. The oral history of the Lakota tells about the police actually hanging Indians for crimes that would be considered misdemeanors today.

During the early 1970s when the American Indian Movement scared the hell out of Rapid City citizens and the police force a major war could have erupted if not for the intervention of then mayor, Don Barnett.

The culmination of this contention came to a head when a Native American gunned down two Rapid City police officers one year ago and once again the friction between Indians and the police could have turned on a dime if not for the calming attitude of the Rapid City chief of police, Steve Allender.

At the present time there is calmness between the Indians and the police. The recent retirement of Chief Allender and the appointment of a new chief have caused the Indian community and the police to re-evaluate the relationships between both parties.

Most, and we do mean most, Native Americans believe that the Rapid City Police and Pennington County Sheriffs still profile Indians in traffic stops and in other arrests. Profiling means looking at people of a different race much more closely than at people of the white race. This means stopping them more frequently for traffic violations real or imagined or just for being an Indian walking down Main Street and looking suspicious.

The Indian population of Rapid City probably makes up 20 percent of the total population. There has been no recent census taken to arrive at an accurate figure and one of the reasons is that the Indian population is transitional from the reservations to the city and so the numbers always vary. But assuming that the population of Native Americans is 20 percent how does that compute with the number of Indians serving on the Rapid City Police Department or on the Pennington Country Sheriff’s Department?

Not very well! We have called upon the local police to reach out and hire more Native Americans. There are highly qualified Native American police officers with years of experience and a background in law enforcement equal to any member of the Rapid City Police Department. Many have attended the Police Academy in New Mexico and have taken other specialized courses in police work. But the Rapid City Police Department has consistently refused to reach out to the Native American community or to the Indian reservations to find good police officers of Indian heritage.

Every time we see that the police department has hired a bunch of new officers and their pictures are published in the local daily, all the Indian community sees are a bunch of new, white faces. And we wonder why there are no Indians represented in the new hires. Whose fault is that? Who does the hiring?

It’s like the situation in Ferguson, Missouri where the community is almost 60 percent black and yet of the 53 police officers on the force only 3 are African American. So look at the mess that city is in now and it is not beyond imagination that the same thing could happen in Rapid City given the right or wrong set of circumstances. The writing is on the wall and it is high time that the Rapid City Police Department wake up and smell the coffee. Forewarned is forearmed and we don’t want to be the ones to say “I told you so” should violence erupt between the Indian community and the Rapid City Police Department.

So with a new chief and a new mission, let’s not forget to include Native Americans.

Tim Giago can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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