New Pine Ridge top cop making a mark

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PINE RIDGE VILLAGE, S.D. (KOTA TV) -- Filling the top job at the Pine Ridge Police Department proved to be a tall order.

New Pine Ridge Police Chief Robert Ecoffey.

One candidate accepted the job and then simply didn't show up.
The post remained empty for more than a year.

But new chief took over this spring and early indications are that some much needed positive changes are afoot.

Robert Ecoffey began his storied law enforcement career in 1975 on Pine Ridge. He was the first native American named U.S. Marshall for South Dakota and oversaw all aspects of Indian country law enforcement nationwide for the BIA. Today he's back where he started -- and where he grew up -- on Pine Ridge.

"In order to run a department of this size you have to have stability and longevity at the leadership," Ecoffey said. "With my years of experience and education in working in all fields of law enforcement both on the federal and tribal level I think I'm able to bring that expertise to the table and help this department stand out."

He's already made a mark. For the first time in decades, the police force is fully staffed with all 44 positions filled.

"This morning we brought in a new cadet and the property person said, 'Chief we need to order more uniforms because we haven't had this many positions in a long time,'" Ecoffey said.

And not just uniforms.

"We've had to order badges. We've had to order flashlights, portable radios because we've never had the need for them until now," said Mike Whirlwind Horse, the police department's property and supply technician who has been on staff since 1988. "In recent years we've never had this many officers. We've always had maybe 25 to maybe 30. This is the first time we've had 44 officers in quite a while."

And Ecoffey has his eye on expansion.

"My goal right now is to hire up to 60 officers at the current time," he said.

And innovation. He wants to launch a detective division and a a unit to dig in on old cases.

"We'll be instituting a cold case division," he said. "There's several older cases in terms of homicides and missing people on this reservation that have not been solved and this is an attempt to maybe have a fresh set of eyes take a look at the cases and maybe see if we can bring some resolution to them on behalf of those families."

In an interview with KOTA Territory News Ecoffy also addressed the nettlesome topic of extradition of fugitives who flee across reservation borders. Pennington County law enforcement has sought new agreements with tribes to address the topic. He said tribal law already spells out procedures and has urged state authorities to explore those channels and give the existing system a chance to work.

"We have advised Pennington County and other authorities across the state that we do have a process and procedure and if they're interested in obtaining somebody off of this reservation then they have to go through the process and file the proper paper work within our system," he said.