Addressing the U.S. House of Representatives Resources Committee, tribal leaders and law enforcement officials definitively stated that more funding, more flexibility, and more inter-agency cooperation are needed if law enforcement is to adequately serve the Great Plains reservations.
"I have been troubled by the reports on law enforcement. Lower Brule and Crow Creek have no working detention center. Congress must do more than provide funding," says Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., a member of Resources.
According to Sandlin, the law enforcement budget submitted by the administration for 2008 has increased from fiscal year 2007, and the house has marked it up higher; but that is still not enough.
BIA Director Patrick Ragsdale, who testified at the hearing and remained throughout the afternoon for all panels, admitted there was an epidemic of drug use, including an increase of methamphetamine distribution and ingestion, on the reservations and that the number of officers assigned to the reservation's jurisdiction and well-being had been reduced.
Also, the Crow Creek Reservation detention center was closed last year because of what Ragsdale and Chris Chaney, deputy BIA director for the Office of Justice Service, deemed inadequate staffing, resulting in safety problems for staff, inmates, and the public
"I question the integrity of the BIA," says Lester Thompson, a former BIA officer, who is wondering if the tribal government was consulted prior to the facility's closure. "There are a lack of officers on Crow Creek to cover an area 70 miles long and 30 miles wide, and there is an increase in crime. Are we not entitled to live in safe, secure environments like the rest of America?"
The detention center at Lower Brule cost nearly $13 million to construct. Of that, the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe contributed $5.5 million and the facility is not yet open. At the present time, only 17 of the needed 40 positions have been filled.
Additionally, according to Ragsdale, currently there is discussion with regard to consolidation of the Lower Brule and Crow Creek detention facilities, despite the fact that both tribes oppose the proposal. More facilities are slated be closed across Indian country, according to Chaney, and the BIA does not have appropriations to build new jails. Most facilities were built in the 1970s and are deteriorating, he says.
Thompson questions the motives. "If there was money appropriated for Crow Creek when it was open, where is the money since it has been closed? Where did it go?" Adding that he has information indicating some administrative staff was paid at a higher rate than FBI agents and some officers in some municipalities, Thompson asked, "Why not reduce their salaries and put the money to where it would do more good?"