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Obama Initiative Seeks to Reduce Crime on Reservations

by David Doody

Tags: Operation Alliance, Wind River reservation, Bureau of Indian Affairs, police department, crime, politics, WyoFile, David Doody,

Robert Durrell Photo

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,

a breathtaking expanse of grassy plains and cottonwood-lined draws that rises toward the snowy peaks of the Wind River Mountains…. Until the recent police surge, [Mike] Shockley, the night patrolman, was one of only six patrol officers and two investigators who worked out of the tiny [Bureau of Indian Affairs] police station in Fort Washakie.

Troublemakers on the reservation have long been aware of their numerical advantage, which is one reason they often react to traffic stops by hitting the gas…. One young driver used his cell phone to record a video of Shockley chasing him, then posted the scene on YouTube with the title, ‘Keep Trying Shockley’ (the video has since been removed).

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:

‘You get a fucking rez cop over here,’ yelled the woman, dressed in white shorts and a blue sweatshirt.  ‘Don’t you fucking touch me!’

She relaxed as soon as she saw Shockley coming her way.  ‘I want to ride in Shockely’s car,’ she said.

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.)

Source: WyoFile

Image by Robert Durell  

8/28/2010 5:48:26 AM

Why is crime so high on the reservations?

dave kealey
8/27/2010 2:37:42 PM

one of many steps towards the resolution of this problem is self-governance. The second would be a fund for First Nations to draw from to continue the training and hiring of native police officers. Also as Hiedi said, the readily available, meaningful employment opportunities.

barbara gillihan
8/27/2010 1:54:04 PM

There are a whole slew of problems here. Outside police or BIA trained enforcement is antagonistic and I don't think will work. Alcohol and unemployment breed other problems like spouse abuse and teenage rape. Incarceration doesn't change the problem... it just temporarily hides it away. No, the rest of the country doesn't know what's going on here. Wish I had a simple idea on how to fix it.

david doody_2
8/27/2010 12:10:29 PM

Heidi--I couldn't agree more and I think that that statement is true everywhere (with the emphasis on "meaningful employment"), not just on reservations. That said, I think that so few police officers covering such large amounts of land is troubling. As Jason Thompson puts it in another part of the story: “We don’t get the same attention as other areas because crime problems are not as well known and don’t affect a larger portion of society.”

heidi hunt
8/27/2010 12:00:25 PM

Just a thought - perhaps if there were more meaningful employment opportunities and better education, including cultural education, on the reservations, there would be less crime. If you're earning a paycheck you have less incentive to get into trouble.