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The 15-member Rapid City Police Department Community Advisory Committee are seen here at its first meeting on March 2. 

Courtesy photo

Almost 50 years after its creation was initially recommended, the Rapid City Police Department’s first Community Advisory Committee is finally in place to start working.

The committee, formed in December and originally called the Cultural Advisory Committee, announced Wednesday its complete roster of 13 private citizens and two Rapid City police officers.

Seven of the members are Native American, a reflection of the police department’s desire to improve its relationship with Rapid City racial and cultural groups.

“It’s important that we create environments where the community can come and engage with officers, give them a recommendation, and to help the department cover more ground where they haven’t been able to do so,” said committee coordinator Vaughn Vargas, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

Committee members held their first meeting in January, and plan to gather once a month to consider recommendations for Police Chief Karl Jegeris. Their meetings will not be open to the public, but they plan to hold semiannual gatherings where citizens can let their voices be heard, much like South Dakota’s legislative “crackerbarrels.”

Except for Vargas, a part-time employee of the Rapid City Police Department, the other private citizen committee members are all volunteers. Vargas, who played a large role in picking the members, said the individuals were chosen for their diversity of backgrounds, as well as organizational, technical and community-relations expertise.

“I believe this collaborative approach will have a significant positive impact on crime reduction and community safety for years to come,” Jegeris said in a press release Wednesday. 

Native Americans make up about 12 percent of Rapid City's population but account for nearly two-thirds of the people arrested in the city. Racial tensions were strained last year by several incidents, including Native American children being sprayed with beer during a Rapid City Rush hockey game.

An independent study on race relations last year indicated friction between the Native American community and the mostly white police force, but also a desire to improve the situation.

The South Dakota Advisory Board to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights first made a recommendation to create this type of committee in 1969, and again in 2000, according to the police department.

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The 15 members of the committee are:

Harriet Brings, teacher and advocate for the revival of the Lakota Language; Erik Bringswhite, methamphetamine intervention coordinator at the Oglala Sioux Tribe Housing Authority; Susie DeHart, executive assistant with The Hope Center in Rapid City; Tim Doyle, school liaison officer for the Rapid City Police Department; Jennifer Giroux, medical epidemiologist for 17 tribes in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa.

Also, Lloyd LaCroix, member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights South Dakota Advisory Committee; Beverly Lafferty, staff member at Working Against Violence Inc.; Gary Nelson, instructor with the City/County Alcohol and Drug Programs; Linda Palzkill, retired Pennington County Probation Officer; Anthony Picket Pin, officer with the Rapid City Police Department.

Also, Kayla Pritchard, assistant professor of sociology at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology; Thomas Raymond, teacher at Oglala Lakota College; Vaughn Vargas, industrial engineering and engineering management student at Mines; Eric Whitcher, director of the Pennington County Public Defender’s Office; and Oliver White, public information officer and firefighter for the Rapid City Fire Department.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Cops and Courts Reporter

Cops and courts reporter for the Rapid City Journal