Standing Rock Indian Reservation "surge" of law enforcement

Twenty-five extra law enforcement officers will begin patrolling the sprawling Standing Rock Indian Reservation later this month in an effort to curb crime in an area known for its lawlessness.

The U.S. Department of Interior will transfer 25 officers to Standing Rock by April 25, and they will remain there until permanent Bureau of Indian Affairs officers can be hired and trained – possibly as long as two years.

The officers will come from various agencies, including the BIA, National Parks Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Their numbers will be drawn down as the BIA recruits and trains permanent officers.

This latest move to cut crime on the Standing Rock Reservation is a reprise of a law enforcement effort that saved the reservation that straddles the South Dakota-North Dakota border from descending into lawlessness in 2008. But this effort, which is being described as a “second surge,” will be more permanent.

In 2008, after prodding by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., the BIA established Dakota Peacekeeper. The operation sent federal law officers 20 at a time for 30-day shifts to Standing Rock over the course of several months. Those officers made hundreds of arrests and reversed a crime spree that had people afraid to leave their homes at night.

Before Dakota Peacekeeper, the number of law officers patrolling the reservation, which is comparable in size to Connecticut, had dwindled to six.

U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson said he is looking into whether lawyers from his office can help tribal prosecutors. “We need the permission of Standing Rock to do that, and I don’t think it’s ever been done anywhere in the U.S.,” Johnson said.

If the Standing Rock initiative is successful, it might provide a model that can be imported by other tribes on other reservations, Thune said. It might also prod Congress to pass the Tribal Law and Order Bill, Thune and Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin said.

She introduced the House version of that legislation. It takes a comprehensive look at issues the Department of the Interior and the Department of Justice are dealing with piecemeal at Standing Rock, including the relationship among federal, local and tribal law enforcement agencies, the authority of tribal courts and the need for tribal detention facilities for both adults and juveniles.

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