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Council OKs body-cam contract; RCPD officers to begin wearing devices in June

Police officers patrolling Rapid City’s streets are expected to be equipped with body cameras by the end of June.

At the Rapid City Council meeting Monday night, the council authorized the Rapid City Police Department to enter into a five-year contract with Axon, an Arizona-based company specializing in technology and weapons products for law enforcement and civilians.

The contract is for $666,446, and includes the purchase of around 100 cameras, RCPD Chief Karl Jegeris said in a Journal interview after the meeting.

“Everybody that’s working in a uniformed operational capacity will be wearing the body cameras,” he said. “It’s patrol. It’s field services.”

A $300,000 Department of Justice grant to the RCPD and Pennington County Sheriff’s Office to help fund the implementation of body camera technology was awarded in October 2017 and will help the RCPD offset $150,000 of the cost split over the next two years.

Alongside the contract for body cameras, a separate, five-year contract at $191,135 for dash-camera technology was also approved Monday night. The RCPD’s patrol cars are already equipped with that technology, but the new contract will see the RCPD switch from L3 Technologies to Axon’s camera and technology infrastructure. Jegeris said he expects the transition to be complete by the summer of 2019. The purchase of about 30 cameras is included in the contract.

The body camera contract comes following a three-month pilot project that saw 15 police officers and 15 deputies test three different body camera manufacturers. The names of the other manufacturers tested were not disclosed as per a confidentiality agreement, RCPD spokesman Brendyn Medina said in October.

During the past year, the RCPD has also been crafting a department policy for body camera use by its officers. A draft of the policy was made public in December and requires that officers activate their cameras during most routine encounters — e.g. traffic stops, vehicle/foot pursuits, arrest and transports, domestic violence calls, DUI investigations, the reading of Miranda rights and the seizure of evidence — while noting that activation may be delayed due to immediate safety concerns by the officer.

Further, storage of the recordings is set at a minimum of 60 days for arrests and pursuits and a minimum of 30 days for traffic stops, searches and other “miscellaneous categories.” Long-term storage is required in homicide investigations, officer-involved shootings, vehicle pursuits resulting in obvious serious injury crashes, fatality crashes and “significant incidents at the direction of a supervisor or investigator.” In past interviews, creating the infrastructure for the storage process has been cited as the largest ongoing cost of body camera technology.

As for the release of the recordings, the videos are not subject to inspection or copying but can be released if the agency or court “determines that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the interest in nondisclosure.”

Jegeris said his department engaged with the American Civil Liberties Union, its community advisory committee and then the public while drafting the policy.

“I would call it a community inclusive policy,” he said. “I think it’s going to serve our community very well.”

A recent study of over 2,000 police officers in Washington, D.C. — perhaps the most comprehensive study of body camera use by law enforcement to date — found that officers equipped with cameras used force and faced civilian complaints at about the same rate as officers without cameras.

The D.C. police chief overseeing the department that was studied, Peter Newsham, told The New York Times that the primary benefit to using body cameras is less to affect police behavior than to improve the community’s trust and relationship with law enforcement.

In other action, the council:

• Approved a management plan as the city prepares for a looming infestation of Emerald Ash Borers, an exotic beetle native to Asia that’s known for its insatiable appetite for ash trees. Infestations have been detected in 31 states and are slowly spreading westward. In Iowa, an infestation was recently found within 90 miles of Sioux Falls. About one of every five trees in Rapid City is an ash tree and the city estimates that it has about 40,000 ash trees in total.

As part of the city’s management plan, it will begin thinning the ash tree population by about 100 trees per year until ash tree levels are below 5 percent or ash borer infestation is found in the area. Ash trees of “poor quality” and trees less than 10 inches in diameter will qualify for removal but woodland areas, riparian zones and unmanaged city property will go untouched. Trees on private property that are suspected of ash borer infestation will be inspected and if found infected, will need to be removed by the landowner.

Infected ash trees in the right-of-way adjacent to private property will also need to be removed by the adjacent landowners. Chemical treatment for certain trees is also planned but would not be initiated until an infestation is detected in the area. Chemical treatment will be minimal, however, and is quite expensive — between $7 and $16 per inch of tree diameter every two years — and will only be applied to trees in downtown Rapid City, along West Boulevard, and other “large legacy” and “memorial trees.” Funding will determine the location and number of trees that receive this treatment. Once an infestation is in the area, the treatment must be injected into the tree’s trunk every two years or the tree will become infected and die.

• Approved the first reading of an ordinance further regulating food truck vending operations in Rapid City just over year after the council passed regulations for food trucks operating within city parks. The ordinance seeks to prohibit food trucks from operating in certain locations — e.g. on city streets and sidewalks, within 300 feet of any event held in the central business district or in the public right-of-way, unless given permission — while also creating new rules like the prohibition of "audible amplified music" and signage on anything other than the food truck. Perhaps most notably, the ordinance would not require food truck operators to apply for any additional permits from the city. The state Department of Health already requires a license and conducts occasional health inspections while the city requires permits for food trucks operating in city parks.

• Approved the first reading of an ordinance concerning the city’s Planning Commission. The most notable change the ordinance introduces is opening up the possibility that the commission be filled with people from the same city ward. Under the current ordinance, appointments that would result in two or more commission members being from the same ward are prohibited. Under the proposed ordinance changes, such appointments would be allowed once “due regard” was given to “obtaining representation from all five wards.” The change, assistant city attorney Carla Cushman wrote in an April 26 memo to the Planning Commission, comes after the city had difficulty filling empty commission seats due to a lack of membership and applicants from Wards 2 and 4.

• Approved putting three public improvement projects out for public bidding. San Marco Boulevard from South Canyon Road to West Chicago Street will receive a facelift, and sanitary sewers will be extended at a cost of approximately $300,000. Chip sealing of certain city streets — Meade Street, Galena Drive, Elm Avenue and Sitka Street — was budgeted at about $300,000. A corroded water valve beneath Saint Joseph Street from East Boulevard to Third Street will be repaired along with other improvements at an estimated cost of $260,000. A request by Jeff Crockett, the city’s water superintendent, for $150,000 to cover the cost of concrete replacement resulting from the repair of water main breaks was also approved.

• Approved a request by the Black Hills Farmers Market to operate at 145 E. Omaha St. for the 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons. In a March 28 letter to the city council, Farmers Market Manager Barbara Cromwell indicated the location had adequate space for its 56 vendors and sufficient parking for customers. This year marks the 30th year for the Black Hills Farmers Market, which is scheduled to open on May 12 through Nov. 3 on Saturdays and Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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Course prepares Central students for the future

When Rapid City Central High School sophomore Malakie Feild crouches down low, picks up a doll and starts playing house with two youngsters, he is preparing for the future.

Even at age 16, Feild says he wants a family someday, and a class at Central High School is helping him be ready for just that. 

Feild is one of roughly 50 Central high students who have spent the semester working with children one day a week at the Rural America Initiatives Head Start Program as part of their Child Development II course. As part of the course, the high school students also received their CPR certification and traveled to Spearfish to the South Dakota Early Childhood Education Conference last month. 

"I don't want to be a teacher when I grow up, but I do want to be a parent," Feild said. "I want to be able to better enrich my children when I get older." 

For Feild, this class — and the time spent with the Head Start kids — is the perfect prep course for a family of his own. 

"Most people, in some point in their life, will have to deal with children," Feild said. "You need know the right way to work with those children, so they grow and become better adults."

Whether it's playing tag outside, working on writing in the classroom or just building robots out of blocks, both Feild and the children are learning valuable lessons for their respective futures.

One of the most important lessons Feild has learned is the differing personalities and varying techniques for interactions. "You don't really know what your child is going to be like, so for me it's really nice to get that variety," Feild said. 

For Rural America Initiatives, having high school students like Feild come to the classroom has taken some of the strain off the educators. 

LaRae Arroyo, education manager with Rural America Initiatives, said the high school students are willing to do anything for the kids. That might be throwing a ball around outside or sitting down in the play area to have tea with them. 

"You always have that group of kids that run right up and are ready to have them (the high school students) paint with them or play tag outside or even read a book," she said. "They know those kids for only an hour a week, but they form those bonds and relationship in that short period of time." 

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Rapid City man pleads not guilty to assaulting officers with knife

A Rapid City man pleaded not guilty Monday to accusations he tried to attack multiple police officers with a knife while they were responding to a call for service in March. Prosecutors decided not to move forward with the man’s four other original charges, including rape.

Michael Whirlwind Horse, 31, pleaded not guilty to six counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement/public officer. Each felony count carries a maximum punishment of 25 years in prison.

The charges stemmed from an incident March 24, in which the Rapid City Police Department said Whirlwind Horse threatened several officers with a “large knife” after they responded to a report of an unwanted person at a residence on Signal Drive.

Police said Whirlwind Horse refused to follow repeated orders to drop the knife and couldn’t be subdued by a stun gun or getting hit with bean bags. He reportedly fled to an adjacent street, Kellogg Place, where he was arrested after again being shot with a stun gun.

Investigators learned that before the alleged confrontation, Whirlwind Horse had taken sleeping medication with alcohol.

Whirlwind Horse’s mother earlier told the court he had been undergoing treatment for a mental illness. He was given permission to leave the treatment facility for his birthday, and he went to a residence that had “significant alcohol.”

Pennington County prosecutors originally charged him with four other offenses: second-degree rape, aggravated assault, simple assault and false imprisonment. It’s not clear from court documents how Whirlwind Horse is related to his accusers.

At Whirlwind Horse’s hearing Monday morning, Deputy State’s Attorney Heather Sazama told 7th Circuit Judge Jeff Davis that the other charges were not presented to the grand jury. They related to “a victim who was not cooperative,” the prosecutor said.

Davis granted Whirlwind Horse’s request to get his bail reduced given the fewer charges he is facing. It has been lowered from $500,000 to $300,000 cash or surety.

Whirlwind Horse denied he was a repeat offender; previous felony convictions could enhance the penalty for new offenses. Sazama said Whirlwind Horse has two existing convictions in Bennett County: sexual exploitation of a minor in 2013 and aggravated assault in 2016.

Whirlwind Horse is scheduled to return to court June 18.

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Uranium companies merge in pursuit of Edgemont-area mine

The corporation that wants to mine for uranium in southwest South Dakota has strengthened itself with a merger agreement, according to a Monday news release.

Azarga Uranium Corp., through its subsidiary, Powertech (USA) Inc., is seeking regulatory approval to mine in the Dewey-Burdock area near Edgemont, at the southwest edge of the Black Hills.

Azarga’s merger agreement is with URZ Energy Corp., which has been studying the uranium potential of the Gas Hills area between Riverton and Casper in central Wyoming.

The CEO of URZ, Glenn Catchpole, will be appointed chairman of the merged corporation’s board, and Azarga’s president and CEO, Blake Steele, will continue in his current role.

Steele said in the news release that the merger will position Azarga “to continue to advance development of Dewey Burdock for the benefit of all shareholders.”

Azarga and URZ are each publicly traded in Canada. Azarga has corporate offices in Colorado and Hong Kong, plus a Powertech office in Edgemont. URZ Energy’s head office is in Vancouver, Canada, and Catchpole’s office is in Casper, Wyo.

If shareholders of the corporations approve the merger at meetings next month, Azarga will acquire all of the issued and outstanding shares of URZ for consideration of two Azarga shares per each URZ share, the news release said.

An Azarga $1.8 million loan (in U.S. currency) that is payable to shareholders will be converted into shares at 25 cents per share (in Canadian currency). Also, URZ has agreed to advance Azarga $465,000 in U.S. currency by way of a secured loan.

Powertech’s effort to mine the Dewey-Burdock area dates to at least 2005, when the company began acquiring mineral claims there. But the effort has been mired in the regulatory approval process ever since. Various permits from federal, state and local agencies are still under consideration.

The project has also faced opposition from groups and individuals who fear potential water pollution from mining. And Native Americans have expressed concerns about the potential damage to cultural and historical sites in the mining area. Besides being on land that was formerly part of the Great Sioux Reservation, the mining project would be adjacent to the Black Hills, which is an area of traditional spiritual significance for many tribes.

Historically, the Edgemont area was mined for uranium from the 1950s through the 1970s. Uranium mining boomed throughout the West during that period as the U.S. government rushed to enrich uranium for a Cold War buildup of nuclear weapons. The uranium was extracted from ore that was dug up or blasted out of tunnels and open pits.

Today, uranium is mined primarily for use in nuclear power plants. The proposed mining near Edgemont would be conducted by a newer method known as “in situ,” which is a Latin phrase meaning “in its original place.” Underground water at the mine site would be enriched with oxygen and carbon dioxide, and the resulting solution would be pumped underground to dissolve uranium from ore. The uranium would be pumped to the surface for processing. After mining, the water-based solution would be treated and pumped into underground disposal wells.