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65-percent of RCPD calls for service have to do with homelessness, Chief asks for community help

Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 5:10 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - Last year, the Rapid City Police Department lost 20 employees, and already this year they are down about 15.

Chief of Police Don Hedrick says this could be due to the intensive workload demanded by Rapid City police officers.

Mayor Steve Allender proposed a budget Monday that hopes to both alleviate some of the burden placed on officers and assist a demographic in need.

Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender says 65-percent of calls for service for the Rapid City Police Department have to do with something they’re unable to solve.

The police chief agrees.

“We are not going to be able to arrest our way out of homelessness,” says Hedrick

Hedrick says that for a long time the criminal justice system has been called upon to solve low-level things like substance abuse, alcoholism and mental health issues.

“As a police agency,” Hedrick says, “we’re not going to be able to address those issues effectively.”

He says they just end up ferrying folks to jail, often times repeat offenders, and not providing any real solutions.

“The jail is very costly and it’s ineffective at addressing the underlying root issues,” says Hedrick.

The 2022 Rapid City budget plan Allender pitched to City Council Monday includes hiring social workers who would respond to calls and assist when needed.

“We’re trying to bring more resources to the point of intervention,” Hedrick says, “other than just a police officer, or a firefighter or paramedic.”

Trained professionals and experts who can bring resources to those willing to accept them; housing, food, water, daycare, clothing, counseling, mentoring. Things that don’t happen in the back of a cop car, and in turn help relieve the workload Rapid City officers are facing.

“The Rapid City workload is 73-percent higher than the average market workload,” says Hedrick.

According to city officials, it’s because of homelessness.

Hedrick says, “we can partner with other agencies to help mitigate some of those calls for service.”

And having social workers on board would free up officers’ time and allow more presence in the community.

“More resources and taking away some calls for service could help us conduct some more of those public enforcement activities that the public expects us to do,” says Hedrick.

Not to say that the police would ignore calls.

“If we have a situation where an officer is needed, an officer goes and works with the service provider. But, if there is a situation where a person is cooperative and simply needs some help, I think the police would be able to step back at certain times and allow service providers to take the lead in a situation like that.”

He says Rapid City’s issues are unique, and that it’s important to tailor partnerships to local organizations that understand those needs

“Homelessness, mental health issues... they’re bigger than the police alone,” says Hedrick, “I think it’s okay for us to say we need more help in this area.”

Allender’s proposal includes an increase in budget spending on the fire department and police department to fund resources for them to use on managing the homeless situation.

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