Tribal Law Act expected to improve safety on South Dakota reservations

Source: Rapid City Journal

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation’s chief of police said he expects the Tribal Law and Order Act that President Barack Obama signed into law to eventually allow him to rebuild his police department back to 100 officers.

Police Chief Everett Little Whiteman said the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s police department has shrunk from a high of 100 officers to its current 44 officers, who cover the entire reservation. That isn’t nearly enough for a reservation with a growing gang problem, he said, calling the new law a welcome improvement to public safety on his reservation.

Oglala Sioux Tribe President Theresa Two Bulls and Rosebud Sioux Tribe Police Chief Grace Her Many Horses were among tribal officials who were in Washington, D.C., for Thursday’s bill signing. Tribal leaders hailed it as a reaffirmation of the federal government’s trust responsibility to ensure their communities are safe

It authorizes an additional $40 million per year from 2011 through 2015 to help fight crime on reservations. When funded by Congress, the law’s effects first will be felt in the judicial branches of tribal law enforcement, not in tribal police departments, Little Whiteman said. But by providing more prosecutors and more judges to deal with a backlog of violent crime cases on the reservation, the law promises to have “productive impacts” on his police department, he said.

There are four tribal judges on the Pine Ridge reservation and not nearly enough prosecutors and investigators to deal with the 17,000 arrests made there each year, he said.

The 2011 fiscal year begins in October and, depending on how the first grants from the act are disbursed, Little Whiteman expects to begin adding police officers then.

Recruitment, training and housing issues for additional police officers to serve on South Dakota’s reservations all must be addressed, he said. Tribal communities should begin to see improvements in public safety because of more prosecutions and additional police officers within a couple of years, he predicted.

South Dakota’s congressional delegation applauded passage of the long-awaited bill as landmark legislation that takes a major step forward in fighting crime on reservations. The measure provides for the appointment of special U.S. attorneys to ensure violent crimes in tribal communities are prosecuted. It also revamps training for reservation police, expands the sentencing authority of tribal courts from one to three years, addresses jurisdictional issues and improves the collection and reporting of Native American crime data. It also improves training for investigation of sexual assault and standardized protocols for handling sex crimes, interviewing witnesses and handling evidence of domestic and sexual violence on reservations.

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., a member of the Indian Affairs Committee, joined President Obama and tribal officials at the White House for the signing ceremony. “When the ink is dry on the president’s signature, a strong message will be sent across our tribal communities that Washington is making a historic effort to fight crime in Indian Country,” Johnson said in a news release.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., successfully added a provision to the bill to study the effectiveness of the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services program and how community policing and the broken windows theory can be applied on remote reservations such as those found in South Dakota. He also authored an amendment to raises the age limit for Bureau of Indian Affairs officers from 37 to 47 years, allowing more military retirees to be recruited for those jobs.