"One day I saw this guy working as a clerk in a grocery store. The next week he was on patrol with a gun as a tribal cop, no training and carrying a gun, we can't let that happen."
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Greg Bourland shook his head as he addressed the recent Law Enforcement Education Summit in Rapid City, S.D.
He smiled as he emphasized the real need for well-trained police officers on reservations throughout in Indian country.
Bourland sees the need for not only criminal justice programs at tribal colleges and universities, but the need for a trained staff that can come into communities and provide continuing education for police officers who are already working.
A cooperative effort with tribes in South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana ? the proposed "floating police academy' tribal colleges are working to form ? may be a part of the solution, he said.
The chairman said he envisions the academy working in conjunction with state police academies to improve and increase the number of police officers in Indian country.
"I for one would support whatever is needed. I would support a joint effort with the academy (the South Dakota State Police Academy), but I just want everyone to know that it has to big enough to meet this tremendous demand to be able to train a sufficient amount of officers.
"The Department of Justice has already put out a report on the shortages we are facing, not only in police officers, but other branches of the criminal justice field as well. We need game wardens and detention officers just as badly," Bourland said.
Although the South Dakota Police Academy has offered to become involved in the partnership, Bourland expressed concern over the number of officers that can be trained at the existing academy.
Special Agent Kevin Thom, representing the state academy, told Bourland and others the state of South Dakota intends to expand its training center, but conceded that even then it may be difficult to put all the officers needed in Indian country through training there.
Thom said the state could help the"floating academy" by providing trained instructors to travel to colleges and tribal police departments.
"No matter what we do, there has definitely has got to be in the curriculum, training for cultural sensitivity issues. Not every one of these officers has to be Native American. We have got to get out of this mode of thinking that we're going to have our people as the officers.
"A lot of our people don't want to be police officers at Cheyenne River," Bourland said. "We may hire a Navajo, or we may hire some guy from Tennessee." He motioned to Col. Tommy Harper, coordinator for the Criminal Justice Program at Si Tanka College at Eagle Butte.
Harper, formerly from Tennessee was a police officer for the tribe before accepting his position with the college.
"We have to teach trainees how to handle stress and a whole slew of different things that I believe are important." Bourland went on to say, "Let's face it, these are new recruits we will be working with ? if they can't handle stress in difficult situations, they are either going to do something that is unacceptable for our society or they are going to burn out and say, I want no part of it'. We have to change that."
Using humor to make his point Bourland related his experience as a young man. "I was driving down the road and this tribal police officer turned his lights on and pulled me over. So, I pulled over. I knew I wasn't speeding. I knew I didn't have anything wrong with the car. He got out of his car and strolled over to my car.
"I asked, What's wrong, what's the problem?'
"He said, You're breakin' the laws'.
"The laws,' he answered.'
"I told him, The hell I was!'
"Then he said, OK, OK.' And he turned around and went back to his car and drove away. To this day I don't know what laws he thought I was breaking.
"We've come a long way since 1975, but we still have a long way to go. We need trained police officers and we have to work together to get and keep them," Bourland concluded.