Being a police officer on a reservation is not like being a police officer in other places. For one thing, crime is 2.5 times higher than it is in other parts of the nation, with violent crimes reaching 20 times higher on some reservations, according to WyoFile. And then there’s the huge amount of space police officers are asked to cover, millions of acres in some cases. Until recently a single police officer could expect to pretty much work on his own, with little ability to call for backup when in need, because that backup could be over a half hour away.
Officials in charge of an Obama administration initiative—Operation Alliance, or more informally “the surge”—hope that the initiative will change those numbers and reduce crime on four reservations (Wind River in Wyoming, Mescalero Apache in New Mexico, Rocky Boy’s in Montana, and Standing Rock in North and South Dakota) by five percent in two years. Toward that end, the Wind River Reservation saw its police department increase to 30 officers from eight early this year.
“The Wind River reservation covers 2.2 million acres,” writes John Lancaster,
There is hope among some that the initiative, which currently staffs temporary officers who will be replaced once new BIA recruits complete training, is working. Shockley seems to be among that camp. After responding to a dispatcher’s alert about a drunk driver one night, he found five other officers already on the scene. “That’s awesome,” Shockley is quoted in the story as saying. “Never have I seen that before.”
There are tensions between the “loaner cops” and the local communities, though. One story that Lancaster tells is of a woman arrested for public intoxication:
With “just 3000 officers—fewer than in Washington, D.C.—[patrolling] 56 million acres of Indian country across the United States,” Jason Thompson, director of the BIA’s Office of Justice Services, thinks something needs to change: “Right now, we’re a very reactive agency because of the lack of resources we have…. This is a historical problem. We’re at a point right now where something has to be done.”
(Thanks, High Country News.)
Image by Robert Durell