The surge appears to be working.
Violence has been cut way back since it started. People feel safer in their neighborhoods, but they worry about what will happen when the surge ends.
No, we aren’t rehashing old news from Iraq. This is about another surge in a place thousands of miles nearer to Minnesota but still in its way quite distant: the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border.
An experimental federal effort that dramatically increased the numbers of police officers working the 2.3 million-acre Dakota/Lakota reservation has drawn cheers from tribal leaders and from residents weary of a violent crime rate more than five times the national average.
At the request of Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. and chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the Interior Department recently provided funding to boost the police presence at Standing Rock from nine officers to 29 for three months.
More than 1,000 arrests
Standing Rock was chosen because it has one of the highest crime rates among all U.S. reservations. Since Operation Dakota Peacekeeper was started in June, more than 1,000 arrests have been made and major drug traffickers apparently have moved off the reservation, according to Dorgan’s office and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has provided the supplemental officers.
Reservation police say they averaged about 100 arrests a month before the surge.
“Interior is looking at whether they have funding to implement similar programs on other reservations,” said Justin Kitsch, an aide to Dorgan. “This is the only project of its kind right now.”
At a hearing that his committee held earlier this month at Fort Yates, N.D., on the reservation, Dorgan announced that the surge will be extended through September, and some additional officers will continue to supplement the regular Standing Rock force after that.
Tribal Chairman Ron His Horse Is Thunder said that most people of Standing Rock welcome the heavier police presence. One elderly woman “came up to me after the surge began and she said she felt safe for the first time in a long time on this reservation,” he told Dorgan and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who participated in the hearing.
Looking for long-term solution
But His Horse Is Thunder also said the reservation needs a permanent solution to persistent problems with drug traffickers, gangs and other criminal activity, the Bismarck Tribune reported.
“What will happen after 90 days?” he asked at the hearing, also attended by BIA officials and the U.S. attorney for South Dakota. “Are we sending a message that all they have to do is wait another three weeks and it’ll go back to the way it was before?”
Federal programs designed to help tribes with law enforcement have consistently been underfunded and consequently “have done a miserable job of that,” Dorgan said. “The result is that people get killed, women get raped.”
Dorgan and Thune said they have introduced legislation to provide “a long-term boost to law-enforcement efforts in Indian Country,” including ways to improve coordination between tribal, state and federal law enforcement agencies.