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Many Native Americans in Rapid City believe they are regularly profiled by local law enforcement officers, who they say assume Native people are involved in criminal activity solely based on their race.

Meanwhile, both the Native residents and members of the mostly white police force say they feel subjected to racial discrimination by the other group, according to a yearlong study of police-Native relations in Rapid City.

Also among the findings of the report by an independent expert was the fact that Native Americans, estimated to make up about 23 percent of the city population, make up 59 percent of those arrested.

Additionally, almost 63 percent of arrests involving use of force by Rapid City police officers involved Native Americans.

The study titled "Rapid City Police Department and the Native Community in Rapid City: Examining Policing Trends, Community Opinions and Best Practices," was released Tuesday afternoon, just before a community forum Tuesday evening at the Mother Butler Center that attracted more than 150 people.

And yet, despite some grim statistics and negative attitudes, the author of the study said Tuesday that he was impressed with the amount of shared agreement between Rapid City’s Native American community and Rapid City police officers.

A sense of hope pervaded the analysis by University of South Dakota professor Rich Braunstein as he compiled results of a year-long study of race relations between law enforcement and the Native community.

“Police officers feel they can depend on the Native community for help on investigating crime. Native community feels they can depend on police officers for protection,” he said.

The report, compiled by Braunstein and Tobias Schantz of the Government Research Bureau at the University of South Dakota, looked at details of contact between police officers and the Native American community, including traffic stops, arrests, victimization and use of force cases.

“I expected there to be a big gap between the belief whether or not the Native community actually felt things could improve, whether the police officers actually felt things could improve and whether the Native American community actually felt police officers would be welcome at community events such as powwows,” he said.

The report noted that many of the charges against Natives are of a procedural nature, or related to violation of the court or criminal processes.

The study, undertaken with the initiative of then-Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender, now mayor, and his successor Karl Jegeris, was completed in the shadow of several racial incidents, including highly publicized charges of racial slurs and beer being thrown on young American Horse school students at a Rapid City Rush hockey game, and racially tinged incidents of police-involved deaths of minorities in Ferguson, Mo., New York City and Baltimore.

Still, despite distrust and the sense of mutual discrimination between local police and Natives, there is a desire of both communities for relations to improve, Braunstein said.

“There is a high degree of desire among the Native American respondents to do better, not just for the police to improve, but for the relationship to improve," Braunstein said.

The report is available publicly through the Rapid City Police Department website, rapidcitypolice.org.

Chief Jegeris and his staff have said recently that many criminal incidents in Rapid City result from Native-on-Native interactions, and that many are fueled by alcohol abuse or drug use. Police have stepped up patrols in the Memorial Park area after a series of recent altercations, many which involved Native residents.

Jegeris announced Tuesday night the department’s plans to form a cultural advisory committee made up of volunteer community members from all walks of life. The group will work through department coordinator Vaughn Vargas to advise Jegeris on race-related issues in the community.

“I’m hoping to get all representations on this committee, hopefully be diverse and solve some of these problems before they come across the desk of Chief Jegeris, said Vargas.

According to a RCPD news release Tuesday afternoon, potential applicants should expect to spend at least three hours per week in the committee’s early stages, with the time commitment expected to decrease as the committee is established.

“We’re sitting here with an open hand, and we're glad he's finally ready to shake our hands,” said Chas Jewett, of Rapid City Community Conversations, which has been meeting for seven months to find ways to improve dialogue between cultures.

“These recommendations are a long time in coming. The Community Advisory board is 45 years in the making and it’s wonderful he’s finally doing it,” Jewett said.

Chief Jegeris and his staff have said recently that many criminal incidents in Rapid City result from Native-on-Native interactions, and that many are fueled by alcohol abuse or drug use. Police have stepped up patrols in the Memorial Park area after a series of recent altercations, many which involved Native residents.

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