SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – U.S. Sens. John Thune and Byron Dorgan want to replenish the number of law enforcement officers assigned to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation that straddles their states.
They said a surge of BIA officers last summer – dubbed Operation Dakota Peacekeeper – bumped staffing levels from 13 to 37 on the reservation that’s roughly the size of Connecticut. But the extra help is gone and the crime rate, at one point more than eight times the national average, is on the rise after dropping during the surge.
Thune said President Barack Obama’s budget didn’t include additional funding for law enforcement on Standing Rock and other reservations. The South Dakota Republican said he has been unsuccessful at getting such an appropriation from Congress.
“A lot of the gains we’ve made in public order are in danger of being lost,” he said of “start and stop” programs.
Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat and chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, held a hearing July 1 at Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, N.D.
“This is not a solution – to bring temporary people in and leave. We need to fix this for the long term,” Dorgan said.
Obama’s appointment of Kimberly Teehee, a member of the Cherokee Nation, as a senior policy adviser for Native American affairs should help persuade the White House to better fund law enforcement in Indian country, Dorgan said.
“We’re going to have to make it a priority,” he said. “I’m convinced if we keep pushing, we’re going to make some progress.”
Thune wrote to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and spoke to BIA Director Pat Ragsdale, urging both to increase the number of officers on the Standing Rock reservation.
Dorgan authored and Thune co-sponsored the Tribal Law and Order Act, which would give more local control to tribal law enforcement agencies and make federal agencies more accountable for legal and treaty commitments to law enforcement in Indian country.
Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin said the House passed an Interior Department funding bill 283-184. Included is $2.6 billion for the BIA, an increase of $183 million from the 2009 budget, she said.
Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., said more than $33 million is for law enforcement to strengthen police programs, detention center operations and tribal courts.
She said Theresa Two Bulls testified before a House committee earlier this year about the need for increased funding for tribal law enforcement.
Herseth Sandlin has again introduced legislation that she says would improve coordination among tribal, state and federal law enforcement and increase accountability standards.
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