The leader of a South Dakota tribe is expected to declare an emergency on the state’s largest Native American reservation because of rampant crime that he said hasn’t been curbed due to the U.S. government’s inadequate funding for law enforcement.
The state of emergency declaration planned for Saturday on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation comes nearly six months after a federal judge ruled the U.S. government has a treaty obligation to support law enforcement on the reservation, but declined to determine whether the Oglala Sioux Tribe is entitled to the full funding amount requested.
Oglala Sioux President Frank Star Comes Out said in an interview Friday that conditions on the reservation have worsened since the ruling, prompting him to sign the emergency proclamation.
The U.S. government and its agencies — namely the Interior Department and the Bureau of Indian Affairs — are primarily responsible for the breakdown of law and order on the reservation and negotiations between the government and the tribe are not progressing, Star Comes Out said.
“I feel they’re stalling,” he said.
A draft of the proclamation obtained by The Associated Press said the U.S. government has failed “to fulfill the United States’ treaty, statutory and trust responsibilities to provide adequate law enforcement on the Reservation.”
Gun violence, drug offenses and rapes have become increasingly common on the Pine Ridge reservation. Only 33 officers and eight criminal investigators are responsible for more than 100,000 emergency calls each year across the 5,400-square-mile (14,000-square-kilometer) reservation, tribal officials have said.
The reservation is roughly the size of Connecticut, while the population size is a subject of dispute.
Oglala Sioux officials contend the tribe is entitled to federal funding for 120 fully equipped officers for the reservation, something the federal government has disputed.
Ben Fenner, an attorney for the tribe, said the current staffing equates to four or five officers per shift at any given time.
U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange told the federal government in May to reevaluate its census-based population estimates for the reservation of 19,800 to 32,000, which are lower than the tribe’s figure of 40,000. The judge said the federal estimates likely represent an undercount.
Star Comes Out said police response times on the reservation take hours, if they respond at all.
“With five police officers, it’s just impossible,” he said. “Our officers are overworked, underpaid. They’re outmanned. And it’s dangerous for them to respond to calls by themselves.”
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