Law enforcement needs attention

LOWER BRULE, S.D. - Tribal chairmen and law enforcement officials made the point clear at a U.S. House of Representatives Resources Committee field hearing: More funding, more flexibility and more cooperation among all agencies is necessary for adequate law enforcement on the Great Plains reservations.

''I have been troubled by the reports on law enforcement. Lower Brule and Crow Creek have no working detention center. Congress must do more than provide funding,'' said Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., a member of Resources.

Her comments and those of the tribal officials arose during the first field hearing in Indian country in the 110th Congress. She also said that the committee had not conducted any oversight hearings while under Republican control.

The law enforcement budget submitted by the administration for 2008 has increased from fiscal year 2007, and the house has marked it up higher; but Herseth Sandlin said that is still not enough.

BIA Director Patrick Ragsdale, who testified at the hearing and remained throughout the afternoon for all panels, admitted there was an epidemic of drug use and an increase of methamphetamine distribution and use on the reservations.

In 1883, he said, 1,100 officers were authorized to serve Indian country. Today, fewer officers than that are on duty.

On the Lower Brule Reservation, a new detention center sits idle due to inadequate staffing. Prisoners have to be transported to other facilities at not only a financial burden, but a burden on the reservation that will be left at least one officer short.

The detention center on the Crow Creek Reservation, across the Missouri River from Lower Brule, was closed last year because of what Ragsdale and Chris Chaney, deputy BIA director for the Office of Justice Services, said. Poor staffing at the Crow Creek facility caused a safety problem for staff, inmates and the public that led to its closure.

Lester Thompson, chairman of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, asked if the tribal government was consulted about the closure. Ragsdale was not aware that it was required for closure of a facility.

''I question the integrity of the BIA,'' Thompson said. Thompson is a former BIA officer.

''There are a lack of officers on Crow Creek to cover an area 70 miles long and 30 miles wide, and there is an increase in crime,'' he continued.

''Are we not entitled to live in safe, secure environments like the rest of America?'' Thompson asked.

The detention center at Lower Brule cost nearly $13 million to construct. Of that, the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe contributed $5.5 million and the facility is not yet open.

''I thought it would be fully staffed,'' said Michael Jandreau, chairman of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.

He referred to $1.2 million that was distributed to other tribes in the Great Plains that should have gone toward staffing. He also mentioned that some of the people from the area that were trained were sent to other areas.

''I was not told who signed off on the transfer of funds. Treat us fairly and honestly. I asked when it would be reprogrammed. I was told it would be, but we have not received an answer from anyone about the funds,'' Jandreau said.

Ragsdale said he was not aware of the $1.2 million reprogramming.

When will the Lower Brule detention center be opened? Ragsdale and Chaney replied, ''In a couple of months.''

''With all due respect, that was the answer I got last year,'' Herseth Sandlin said.

The facility will open for 72-hour holding. Three months afterwards, the adult male portion will open and three to six months after that, the adult female portion will open. The juvenile part of the center will open sometime after the others have opened.

At the present time, of the 40 positions to be filled, only 17 have been.

Meanwhile, Crow Creek's detention center is a long way from reality and no budget request has been issued because of budget constraints, Ragsdale said. There had been some talk about consolidating the Lower Brule and Crow Creek detention facilities, however, both tribes are opposed to that proposal.

''If there was money appropriated for Crow Creek when it was open, where is the money since it has been closed? Where did it go?'' Thompson asked.

Thompson said that he has information that indicated some administrative staff was paid at a higher rate than FBI agents and some officers in some municipalities.

''Why not reduce their salaries and put the money to where it would do more good,'' Thompson said.

Ragsdale disagreed that some officers were paid more than FBI agents.

More facilities will be closed across Indian country, according to Chaney, and the BIA does not have appropriations to build new jails, he said. Most facilities were built in the 1970s and are deteriorating.