Nine recruits for the Rapid City Police Department were officially sworn in as officers on the second floor of the Public Safety Building in downtown Rapid City on Wednesday afternoon in a short ceremony attended by family, friends and officers.
The make-up of the new class of officers — with three women, one a Native American — will help diversify the local police force that is mostly made up of white men.
Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris, speaking to a packed room, said the recruits will remain in Rapid City for in-house training until March, when they will travel to Pierre for a 13-week state police academy. Afterward, they will return to Rapid City and spend several months alongside experienced officers.
“By next summer, the public should see these bright faces on our roads,” Jegeris said.
The Rapid City Police Department has made efforts in recent months to attract women and Native Americans to join the department.
In October, a police-community advisory committee was tasked with organizing focus group meetings comprised of Native Americans interested in law enforcement to better represent minorities in law enforcement.
Furthermore, police officials attended an expo last year held by Zonta, an international women's organization with the stated goal of "empowering women worldwide through service and advocacy."
Including the newly sworn in officers, there are now 123 officers in the Rapid City Police Department, eight of them female and four Native Americans. Jegeris promised more initiatives in 2017 to increase those numbers.
“We’re going to continue our recruitment efforts to diversify our department,” Jegeris said. “We plan to roll out a completely new type of recruitment strategy, something that we’ve never done before.”
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Freshly minted Officer Santee Clemons, who was born on the Rosebud Reservation but grew up in Rapid City, was one of three women sworn in and the only Native American. She said she had been dreaming of this day since she was 14.
“It’s very relieving and exciting, a little bit nerve-wracking, going to the academy, but I’m more excited than anything,” Clemons said.
She said one of her goals is to serve as a source of inspiration for other women and Native Americans.
“I want to represent the Native community in a positive way and to also help them see that they can do this job and still be involved with the culture and the community and be a police officer,” Clemons said.
Bethany Coats said she took an interest in becoming a police officer after working as a correctional officer with the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office. Now, she hopes to have an even larger impact.
Coats said she didn’t think diversity in the department was as large an issue as others have made it out to be.
“I don’t think that is so important because regardless of nationality, I think it’s just important no matter what color you are as a police officer, (that) you have a positive interaction with everyone you work with,” Coats said.
Recruit Austin Stanek said he always looked up to law enforcement officers as a child, and is excited to be joining their ranks.
“I’m nervous, but more so I’m very excited to get the process going,” Stanek said of further training. “I know it’s going to be challenging, but I know it’s something that everybody goes through, and you’re going to have the people in your class to lean back on.”