Pine Ridge police land big recruiting class

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PINE RIDGE, S.D. (KOTA TV) There's good news for the short-staffed police on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The Public Safety Department has landed its largest recruiting class in years.

Pine Ridge police recruit Betty Richards.

The 32 law enforcement officers on the reservation put in long hours trying to cover their 2 million acre jurisdiction. But a little relief might be on the way.

"We had a meeting with the lieutenants the other day and you could see the relief in their eyes," said Interim Police Chief Mark Mesteth. " 'Hey we got these guys coming in a matter of months.' They'll be out here joining us so they can get some time off. They've been working some long shifts."

Oglala Sioux Public Safety has six new recruits preparing for the training at the federal law Enforcement Training Center in New mexico next month.

"Those six individuals are the largest class in a number of years," said Mesteth. "But hose six individuals are a welcome relief."

The recruits say they know the department they are joining is short handed.

"We are in dire need of officers and I feel like that's something that I want to do," said recruit Betty Richards. "And I want to have a career in law enforcement and this is my home, you know, so I want to protect and serve my reservation."

Added recruit Stacy Sargent: "I like to feel needed. And knowing that they need officers more than Pennington County or Rapid City or any of the other local counties around here. This just seemed like the place to start off. And maybe even finish."

But even if these six candidates make it through the academy -- no sure bet -- the tribal police ranks will still be short of of the 44 total officers budgeted for.

"Once we get these officers on we'll still have a shortage of six more officers and we'll still be recruiting to try to fill those numbers and it would be a welcome relief," said Mesteth. "You know, we haven't been full in a number of years and I'm looking forward to it and so is every officer out there."

And there's another spot of good news: The tribe received four applications for chief of police and could have a new top cop hired by the end of the year. The reservation hasn't had a permanent police chief for eight months.