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Ten years ago, when the South Dakota Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a public hearing in Rapid City, Native Americans flocked to testify about their experiences in South Dakota's criminal justice system.

The committee's summary report included several recommendations to improve confidence and address perceived inequities in the state's legal system. Recruiting more Native Americans for law enforcement roles was a recurring theme throughout the report.

A decade later, finding, certifying and keeping minorities - particularly Native Americans - in law enforcement is a challenge, say police officials in South Dakota, Montana and North Dakota.

The Rapid City Police Department currently has two Native American officers in a force of 108 sworn officers. Three Native American officers have left the department in recent months; one took a job with the U.S. Marshal's Service, another retired and the third left for family reasons, spokesman Capt. Ed. Hofkamp said.

In 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 10 percent of Rapid City's 63,000 residents were Native American.

Recruiting minority officers in proportions to match community demographics is difficult in Rapid City and elsewhere, Hofkamp said.

"We struggle to find them," he said.

Meanwhile, Oglala Sioux Tribe Police Chief Everett Little Whiteman struggles to find applicants who can qualify for officer trainer. He said his police department can use at least 30 more officers to effectively patrol the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

"The most difficult time we have is having them pass the background investigation. The background investigation is very intensive," said Whiteman, whose force includes 42 Native American officers.

The Pine Ridge police department sends its trainees to the South Dakota Law Enforcement Academy in Pierre, where the program's academic and physical regimens frequently prove too difficult for some trainees.

"The success rate is not very good for people we send to the academy," Little Whiteman said.

He hopes to improve the odds for his recruits by providing a "pre-basic training" program in conjunction with Oglala Lakota College.

The Rapid City Police Department is currently in a hiring cycle, according to Hofkamp. A new slate of applicants was tested Saturday, May 30.

"We have difficulties getting qualified applicants, in general," Hofkamp said. Law enforcement requires shift work and working weekends and holidays.

"It's not as desirable career as others," Hofkamp said.

The Rapid City department is nationally accredited, and its hiring requirements are relatively high.

Prospective candidates must have an associate's degree or at least 64 semester hours of college credits. Applicants with four years of certified law enforcement experience or six years of full-time military experience also are eligible to apply. Allowances are made for a combination of education and experience, but applicants must be willing to pursue a degree.

Qualified applicants are subjected to a background check, a written test, a fitness test, an oral interview, a medical examination and a psychological appraisal.

Last year, the department received 100 applications. Only 50 candidates took the written test; 19 passed. Of those, 12 passed the physical agility test, and only seven were ultimately hired.

"It's getting difficult to fill any slots," Hofkamp said.

This year, 180 applicants are vying for three openings.

"We're very hopeful we'll get minority candidates we can hire," Hofkamp said.

Minority officers bring their culture and a different perspective to law enforcement that is good for the organization, Hofkamp said.

The Sioux Falls Police Department does not have guidelines that dictate hiring by gender or race, but it strives to bring diversity to its department. However, hiring the best people takes priority, an official with that police department said.

"We want the most qualified candidate," Lt. Troy Lubbers said. "We don't care if you're purple with yellow spots. Race or gender is not the deciding factor for us."

About two percent of that community is Native American, another 2 percent is black, and slightly more than 1 percent is Asian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Lubbers said his department would like to be more representative of the community's minority populations, but a lack of candidates keeps minority ratios low. Police officers there must be United States citizens. But many of Sioux Falls' ethic communities - east Africans, Asians, Hispanics - are relatively new to the country.

"We're not seeing people old enough or qualified and willing to test," Lubbers said.

Sioux Falls requires that police applicants also have a high school education or GED. A college education helps, but it isn't something that will necessarily make someone a better officer, Lubbers said.

The Sioux Falls Police Department once made recruiting trips to the reservations and the law enforcement program at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, N.D.

"We didn't get many Native Americans," Lubbers said. He had planned to attend a diversity recruiting fair in Chicago last fall, but the fair was canceled for lack of interest.

In Billings, Mont., inquiries from people leaving the military far outnumber minorities applying for law enforcement jobs, Sgt. Kevin Iffland said.

The Hispanic community is larger there than the Native American community. The department of 140 sworn officers has one Hispanic officer, one black officer and 12 women. The department's only Native American officer recently took a job with the federal government, Iffland said.

Diversity is important, he said. "We want to have a force that represents a community. We do what we can, but we don't get a lot of applications" from minority candidates, he said.

In Bismarck, N.D., the police department actively recruits Native American officers, but with little success. Like Rapid City, Bismarck's police department is nationally accredited, and its basic education requirements are the same.

Despite having the two-year law enforcement program in town at United Tribes Technical College, the department struggles to hire Native American officers, recruiter Lt. Randy Ziegler said.

"It's hard to even get minority applicants to apply," Ziegler said. "I wish I had an easy answer. I don't know why we're struggling. We can't even get them to apply, and it's not because of a lack of effort."

During the 16 years Tom Hennies headed the Rapid City Police Department, he strived for a 25 percent minority representation on the force.

"I was never able to get there," Hennies said, although his department was the first in the state to hire a female officer.

Diversity in a police force is about more than hiring minority officers to police their own, Hennies said. Native American officers do not enforce laws any differently than their co-workers, he said.

But Hennies believes minority officers make white officers better officers. By working side by side, socializing and sharing their lives, minorities bring their culture to the job, which creates a better understanding.

"It rubs off," Hennies said. "Officers don't see color. On the street, they treat everyone the same."

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