BIA keep surges on Pine Ridge and Standing Rock

By Carson Walker
Sioux Falls, South Dakota (AP) 10-08

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is sending extra officers to the Standing Rock and Pine Ridge reservations beyond the previously set deadlines of the surges, but the long-term plan for Pine Ridge has not been decided, said the agency’s director.

Pat Ragsdale said he’s still evaluating whether to allow the Oglala Sioux Tribe to keep its police department or have BIA take over law enforcement on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Instead of allowing the BIA to enforce law on the reservation, the tribe receives money from the federal government to operate its own police department.

During fiscal year 2008, the BIA provided $9.4 million to fund all justice-related programs on the reservation, which included $3.3 for law enforcement services under its contract with the tribe.

The BIA is reviewing the department’s polices, procedures and standards and is checking personnel records and complaints of excessive force. Once complete, it will be included in a report to the tribe.


About 30 tribal officers resigned or were relieved of duty after an Aug. 12 confrontation between some tribal executive board members and the police department.

The BIA sent officers from around the country to help the remaining officers with law enforcement for a month.

Two months later, 20-25 officers from BIA and other agencies are still rotating in as the agency evaluates the police department’s future, Ragsdale said.

“We are still assessing their capability and are in the process of reviewing their reapplication to continue the program,” he said.

It’s too soon to say when a decision will be made, Ragsdale said.

Oglala Sioux Tribe Police Chief Joe Herman and President John Yellow Bird Steele did not return calls seeking comment.

Pine Ridge is one of the nation’s largest reservations. It has an unemployment rate around 80 percent, routinely has among the highest poverty rates in the country, along with rampant drug, alcohol, physical and sexual abuse problems.

On Standing Rock, which straddles North Dakota and South Dakota, the BIA sent in extra officers in June. Arrests shot up to 700 in the first month and dropped to 300 in the second month. All indications are that the boost is quelling crime.

The surge in officers was set to expire in October, but Ragsdale said it will continue, and that the BIA, which handles law enforcement on the reservation, is trying to recruit additional permanent officers.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Congress likely won’t take up funding for legislation to increase law enforcement on reservations this year, but it’s likely to pass next year because of the need and bipartisan support.

The economic situation is a concern, but the financial constraints likely will limit new programs, not those already with congressional support.

“I think these things that have already been voted on are priorities,” he said.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., who met with Pine Ridge tribal and police officials in September, said she supports the short-term boost in officers but believes a long-term plan is needed for Indian Country.

“Where there is tribal support to continue or expand the officer surge, we must increase the number of BIA officers nationwide, rather than just shifting already existing patrol officers, investigators, and other personnel from one reservation to another,” she said in an e-mailed statement.