Skip to main content

Floating police academy' possible crisis solution

RAPID CITY, S.D. ? A crisis looms over Indian country which affects every man, woman and child living on reservations throughout the country ? the shortage of qualified Indian police officers.

A recent study shows that 2,000 qualified Native American police officers are needed for jobs throughout the country.

"With the current Indian Police Academy only turning out about 150 officers a year, we will never meet that need," Col. Tommy Harper, Criminal Justice program coordinator for Si Tanka College, told those attending a March 21-22 Law Enforcement Summit here.

Harper and others from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota brought together representatives of tribal colleges in Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana to address the deficit in qualified police officers and to offer a possible solution.

Si Tanka's director of administration, Keith Jewett challenged those present to come together to form a "floating police academy"' which could serve the needs of students in a three-state area.

"We can work together and turn out qualified police officers without having to send them away from their homes for training," Jewett said. Those who attend the Indian Police Academy train for eight weeks near Roswell, N.M., which Jewett said puts a lot of strain on trainees and their families and costs tribal police departments not only money, but loss of officers for long periods of time.

Si Tanka has been working with Sinte Gleska University at Rosebud to develop uniform curriculum for colleges who join the consortium.

"In Rosebud we are short 20 officers. We had five students apply and take the test to join the force. Out of those five, four failed either the test or the background check," said Gerald Gun Hammer, an instructor at Sinte Gleska.

"We are now trying to reach students in grade school. They have to understand that once they have gotten in trouble for a domestic dispute or assault they are disqualified for life."

He told the group he found that even writing reports has been a problem for some students, so he developed a course to address that problem as a stopgap measure, but he sees the need for a full curriculum for students.

Harper agreed, "Most police forces throughout the country want qualified officers. If someone gets out of the military and applies for a police officer job, they may take a look at him or her, but most applicants anymore have a baccalaureate at the very least. In many departments you find a whole department with master's degrees."

Tribal Judge Betty Laverdure, a Turtle Mountain Chippewa, said, "We have officers who go into situations, like a child-abuse case, and write up the report on the incident. But, because they can't write the report up correctly, we can't prosecute."

Laverdure, a judicial consultant with White Earth Tribal and Community College in Minnesota, brought up the need for sensitivity training for police officers who deal with Indigenous populations.

"Sometimes you give a man a star and he becomes a Jeckel and Hyde," she said. "If we do this, we have to be better than traditional training programs. As Indians and as women that is always the way it is."

Jewett and Harper agreed and added that curriculum had to surpass state and federal requirements to be successful.

The plan for the floating academy would be to have the same curriculum offered at all participating colleges. For specialized training, each college would have instructors from the consortium travel to the colleges to teach their specialty or to have online courses to satisfy requirements for the two-year criminal justice degree.

The floating academy could also step in to do specialized training for tribal police forces if requested by tribal police departments.

"We could do this alone and base it out of Cheyenne River" Jewett said. "We have a state of the art detention center. But we see a need for all the colleges and tribes to be involved. That is why we are here."

Officials at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan., are interested in the program and offering a four-year degree in Criminal Justice.

"We are interested in having students from the participating colleges do internships at Haskell. We have lost our security department at Haskell due to funding cuts. We can offer students housing and the opportunity to take classes at Haskell while they are doing their internships. It will give the students the opportunity to work in a college environment and the problems which go along with it and it gives us security officers on campus," Esther Geary, dean of students, said.

The group will meet again within the next few months to complete plans for the joint effort, tentatively called the Northern Plains Police Academy.

"These kids are our future and we have to build on that, this gives them that opportunity," Tommy Harper concluded.