Race and policing issues take center stage at forum

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) Building trust is paramount.

That was the core message Friday at a forum on race relations and policing.

Top officers from Rapid City, Pennington County and the state Highway Patrol offered thoughts on race and law enforcement to a packed gathering of the Black Hills Forum and Press Club at the Hilton Garden Inn in Rapid City.

Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris admitted that historic injustices still weigh on perceptions in the community.

Chief Deputy Pennington County Sheriff Willy Whelchel agreed. "We do have a divide," he said.

All the panelists noted that race relations were not on the top of law enforcement's agenda not that many years ago but that they were committed to making a difference today.

Jegeris said, "I am at the table (to address these topics) and will remain at the table."

That sentiment was welcomed by some audience members who said they appreciated forums like the one put on Friday.

“It brings awareness of ideas about that divide in our community,” said Dion Whiting who mentors youth at Rapid City’s North Middle School. “Being able to come together and have these conversations is good.”

Others shared that thought but noted many miles are yet to be traversed.

“The trust issues are there,” said Beverly Running Bear with the Community Conversations, a group dedicated to improving race relations in KOTA Territory. “And we're working really hard at those. Hopefully someday we’ll be able to communicate well with the police department.”

Jegeris noted that his department is developing new minority recruitment strategies and that piqued the interest of Col. Craig Price of the highway patrol.

Price said he wants to see the new ideas and figure out what might apply to his department.