Recent Press Releases

Washington, D.C.  —  Senator John Thune today sent a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar drawing his attention to the current shortage of Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) law enforcement officers on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Standing Rock, which is roughly the size of Connecticut, has only 13 law enforcement officers.

Last summer, the BIA conducted a policing surge on the Standing Rock Reservation called "Operation Dakota Peacekeeper." At the height of the operation, 37 BIA officers patrolled the Standing Rock communities. The BIA indicated that the permanent police force on Standing Rock would be 25 officers, but that number now stands at the pre-surge level of 13 officers.

"Operation Dakota Peacekeeper was a success, but by reducing the police force to the pre-surge level, the BIA is jeopardizing all of the progress that was made last year," said Thune. "The difference in public safety before and after the policing surge was unmistakable, but with the reduced number of law enforcement officers, crime is again on the rise. The BIA must act quickly to restore law enforcement levels to at least the 25-officer level that was originally promised before all of last year's gains are lost."

Senator Thune raised his concerns with the anemic police staffing level on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on a telephone call with BIA Office of Justice Services Deputy Director Patrick Ragsdale earlier this week. Senator Thune worked actively with Tribal, state, and BIA officials leading up to and throughout Operation Dakota Peacekeeper.

To assist in addressing a number of issues in Indian Country, last year Congress enacted and the president signed into law a $50 billion foreign assistance bill that included Senator Thune's amendment creating the Emergency Fund for Indian Safety and Health. The fund is authorized to spend $2 billion over the next five years for critical public safety, health care, and water needs in Indian Country.

Senator Thune joined a bipartisan group of his colleagues in introducing the Tribal Law and Order Act earlier this year. This legislation would provide for the appointment of special U.S. Attorneys to prosecute violent crime on reservations, as well as improve training for reservation police and make improvements to Tribal court systems.

The full text of Senator Thune's letter to Secretary Salazar follows:

June 25, 2009

The Honorable Ken Salazar
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240

Dear Secretary Salazar:

I write to respectfully request that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) take immediate action to address the growing crime problem on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. As you know, last year I worked with the BIA and members of the North and South Dakota Congressional delegation to lower crime and increase security on the reservation through Operation Dakota Peacekeeper. However, because the additional number of law enforcement officers that were assured to be assigned to Standing Rock are not currently in place, many the gains brought by Operation Dakota Peacekeeper are starting to erode.

Prior to the Operation Dakota Peacekeeper surge, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, located in both North and South Dakota, had only 13 BIA law enforcement officers to patrol a reservation the size of Connecticut. This lack of adequate law enforcement personal led to one of the highest crime rates on any Indian reservation in the country, one that was six times higher than the national average.

At the height of the surge, the BIA provided a total of 37 officers to the reservation. These officers brought immediate safety to the reservation by performing their normal daily activities, answering emergency calls, and also by providing additional services. These included setting up DUI stops, executing arrest warrants, performing child welfare checks, and engaging in community outreach. As someone who visited the reservation both before the surge and twice during, the difference additional officers made was very evident.

At the conclusion of the surge my staff and I were told that the BIA would be providing an additional 12 law enforcement officers, for a total of 25, permanent officers on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. With these additional officers there would be at least two officers on duty for every shift who would be able to maintain the gains brought about by the surge.

However, it was recently brought to my attention that the number of law enforcement officers on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation has again dropped to the pre-surge number of 13 officers. With this reduction in force, there is again only one officer able to patrol most shifts and crime rates are on the rise.

While I understand there are many challenges associated with the hiring, screening, training, and retention of BIA law enforcement officers, I am concerned that without adequate staffing for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe the additional time and resources devoted by the BIA to the surge will have been a waste. I have already spoken directly to Mr. Ragsdale about my concerns, but I wanted to directly raise them with you as well and ask for your assistance to ensure that the Tribe is provided with an adequate number of permanent BIA law enforcement officers.

I look forward to hearing from you about what the BIA plans to do in the thirty-days to address this need. Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kindest regards,

United States Senator