North Dakota college taking on tribal officer shortage

By Jenny Michael
Bismarck, North Dakota (AP) August 2010

The future of law enforcement in Indian Country might lie in a brick building with expansive windows curving to the northeast, which sits in an empty field south of Bismarck.

The building, bearing the logo of United Tribes Technical College and imprints of horses and thunderhawks, won’t be finished until later this fall and won’t hold classes until January 2011. Instead of housing desks and books, it’s filled with ladders and the smells of paint and plaster.

But walking through the halls and classrooms, dodging construction equipment and cords along the way, David Gipp, president of UTTC, sees the potential the new science and technology center could have in training law enforcement officers to provide public safety services to Native American tribes.

Reservations across the country, including those of the five tribes in North Dakota that operate UTTC, have long dealt with a shortage of law enforcement officers. Part of the problem has been a shortage of training opportunities. Bureau of Indian Affairs officers are trained through the Indian Police Academy in Artesia, N.M., which has a limited number of openings annually.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said the Artesia facility only accepts three classes of 50 per year, and only about half of each class graduates. That means only about 75 new officers make it out of the academy every year. Dorgan said UTTC could provide a solution down the road.

“Our goal is to create an Artesia north,” said Dorgan, the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Gipp also is optimistic that the college someday could house a full law enforcement academy.

UTTC already offers a certificate and a two-year degree in criminal justice and will offer a four-year degree for the first time this fall. The tribal college also has a memorandum of understanding with the BIA to provide specialized training to federal law enforcement officers. This summer, the school offered a police-dog training program.

The college’s next plans will get it closer to the eventual goal of offering complete law enforcement training.

Elmer Four Dance, the BIA’s regional special agent in charge, said UTTC will offer a “bridge program,” where state-certified officers who want to work for the BIA will go through a three-week federal police certification program that will be run through the Indian Police Academy.

“There are efforts right now to try to get that going yet this summer ... or early fall,” said Four Dance, a UTTC graduate.

The bridge training will allow officers trained anywhere to complete their federal certification without waiting to go to Artesia, which also might interest people in the Upper Midwest who want to complete training closer to home. Gipp hopes the training will attract people from this region – North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming – who want to stay and work in this area. However, the program will be open to people nationwide.

“From our perspective, that will allow us to get more previously trained and serving law enforcement officers into the field,” Gipp said. He said the college also hopes to work with tribes to develop their own standards for law enforcement similar to federal or state standards, allowing for more communication and cooperation among agencies.

About 15 to 20 people will be able to train per bridge training class. Gipp is unsure at this point how many classes will be set up per year. He said it will depend on how the first few classes go.

“You could do 10 classes in a year, theoretically,” he said.

The graduates of the bridge training could fill patrol, corrections and investigatory positions down the road for tribes and the BIA, and could eventually begin to be part of the solution for the vacancies in reservation public safety agencies, Gipp said.

“We’re certainly not going to resolve the problems of shortages overnight,” he said.

However, he believes the federal law enforcement training and bridge training is “what I still consider the beginning stages” in UTTC’s role in providing trained law enforcement officers to Indian Country. Down the road, Gipp hopes UTTC could house a complete law enforcement training facility, where officers could get all their training while earning credits toward criminal justice degrees.