While Rapid City remains a relatively safe place to live, the city has seen an escalation in violent crimes over the past six years that concerns Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender.
Reported aggravated assaults climbed over 100 percent from 2006 to 2011 — from 138 to 278 — before falling to 207 last year.
“I’m waving a flag and saying that there is a problem,” Allender said after reviewing eight years of violent crime statistics that include the recently released preliminary numbers for 2012.
“I want to be honest and show what is going on in the city, but I also don’t want to cause an unnecessary alarm, but from 2009 to 2010 we had a 50 percent increase in aggravated assaults,” the police chief said.
At first, the spike was considered a fluke; then 2011 ended with an all-time high of 278 reported assaults, “with no obvious explanation,” Allender said.
The number, which was higher than the 252 aggravated assaults reported in Sioux Falls, shocked police officials who are trying to figure out what is happening here.
What’s also concerning to Allender’s department is the number of Native Americans involved in crime that is often perpetrated against members of their own community.
Native Americans, who make up more than 12 percent of the city’s population, are over represented in crime numbers, according to Allender.
Supporting that premise are population counts from the Pennington County Jail that indicate that 42 percent of the men and women taken to jail in 2012 were Native Americans. Those prisoners served 37 percent of the time served by all inmates, according to Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom.
Thom, a former head of the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, believes there is a correlation between violence on reservations and in Rapid City.
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Thom points to 10-year study commissioned by former Attorney General Larry Long that examined 10 years of homicides in South Dakota, from 1993 to 2002.
Of the 109 people killed during the decade, 108 were Native Americans and 105 were killed by a Native American defendant.
Of the 119 women from Pennington County who are currently in the South Dakota Department of Corrections' custody, 65, or 57 percent, are Native American. Of the 830 men incarcerated from Pennington County 380, or 46 percent, are Native American, as of Feb. 19.
With its high Native population, it’s not surprising that so many Natives are either victims or offenders, said Brenda Hill, the Native co-director of the South Dakota Coalition Ending Domestic Violence and Sexual Violence.
“Violence usually does stay within its own group,” said Hill, whose tribal affiliation is Sikska/Blackfeet. She has lived in Rapid City for the past 17 years.
Along with the growth in aggravated assaults, the city has experienced an increase in rapes and robberies, also categorized as violent crimes.
Rapid City did have five homicides and one home-invasion shooting death that was ruled a justifiable homicide in 2012, but those events are not reflected in these preliminary crime statistics.
Allender said his department is looking for solutions to the surge in reported aggravated assaults and what appears to be a cycle of violence in the Native American community.
“Based upon our preliminary review of the information, it appears to me that we have the same victims and suspects from the same groups year after year. They’re just doing more of it,” he said.