Pine Ridge tribal officials expand expand policing of drug crimes

Published: Oct. 18, 2016 at 9:13 PM CDT
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The Oglala Sioux Tribe is taking matters into its own hands.

Responding to community fears about on–going drug related violence, tribal leaders on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation vowed Tuesday to step up patrols and prosecutions.

The tipping point? The brazen daylight shooting outside a community basketball tournament on Sunday. It was the latest in a string of violent incidents that has sown fear in the community.

“Right now everyone needs to go home and lock the doors when it gets dark because you don't know what's going to happen,” said Mona Richards of Pine Ridge Village. “It's scary. It's really getting scary in the small town of Pine Ridge.”

And so on Tuesday Oglala Sioux Tribal President John Yellow Bird Steele, OST Police Chief Mark Mesteth and tribal Attorney General Tatewin Means said, enough is enough.

Tired of waiting for federal officials to solve crimes on the reservation, they announced new measures aimed at allaying public concerns over what Steele called a drug-related spike in violent crime.

“We're done waiting for the feds to get involved and take action against these drug dealers and drug offenses,” said Means. “So that's our priority and that's reflected in our increased law enforcement plan.”

Police officers will now prioritize drug related calls and Means said a new tribal law targeting drug traffickers provides a fresh tool for tribal police hampered by a shortage of officers. The tribe has budget for 44 cops but only 27 patrol officers are currently on the job.

Also announced was an upcoming anonymous tip line aimed at spurring more input from the community.

“The people out here across Pine Ridge reservation seem to have a lot of information out there that should be getting to us that hasn't gotten to us in a timely manner,” said Mesteth.

Added Steele: “This tip line is going to be an anonymous. Public safety officers need community help on what's happening across the reservation.”

Steele said BIA and FBI agents declined invitations to join their public presentation -- a move that perhaps underscored a split in approaches.

“We want to hold our federal partners accountable but at the same time we need to empower ourselves and take action ourselves,” said Means. “And that's what today was about. We're taking this into our own hands. We’re doing the investigations and the prosecutions locally while our federal partners continue to do the work that they do.”

The FBI would not confirm the identity of the man slain on Sunday but multiple sources told KOTA Territory News that the victim was Vincent Brewer, Jr.

Tribal officials also announced Tuesday that 10 new BIA officers were en route to the reservation to assist with the work load and that plans were underway to launch a tribal reserve officer program.