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Oglala Sioux Tribe Announces New Litigation Against The United States And The U.S. Department Of The Interior For Its Failure To Provide Adequate Law Enforcement Services

28 Sep 22

By Peebles Kidder

On July 26, 2022, the Oglala Sioux Tribe was forced to file a lawsuit against the United States and the U.S. Department of the Interior for their failure to provide adequate law enforcement services on the Pine Ridge Reservation despite the Tribe’s horrific rise in crime.

Since January 2022, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Police Department has responded to 285 missing persons’ cases, 308 gun rated calls, and over 20 questionable deaths, many of which the Tribe expects to learn have been attributed to murder, manslaughter or assault. 

Hard drugs, including heroin and fentanyl, have entered the Reservation from urban areas and the level of domestic violence, rapes and assaults has increased substantially over the last two years.

Despite this serious increase in violent crime, the federal government has not increased the Tribe’s tribal law enforcement funding significantly in years.  In fact, while the Tribe has seen some small increases in federal dollars, mostly from Congressionally mandated appropriations added to current and past Presidential requests, those increases have paid for little more than the Tribe’s rising costs of gasoline and insurance, neither of which the Tribe has any ability to control.

The BIA and the BIA Office of Justice Services have reported to Congress that at least 2.8 officers per 1,000 people are required to operate an effective law enforcement program in a rural area the size of Pine Ridge. The Oglala Sioux Tribe is funded for less than one-quarter of the over 140 officers need to meet that standard, with only 33 police officers to serve a law enforcement service population of 40,000 people.  In contrast, in 1879, the federal government funded a police force on the Pine Ridge Reservation of 50 officers, when the population was only 8,000 people.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe’s law enforcement service population includes approximately 40,000 people including Oglala tribal members living on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Oglala members who live elsewhere but visit the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation regularly, and non-members as well as members of other tribal nations who live and work on the Reservation and travel to the Reservation.  

The 33 brave men and women who serve as police officers at Pine Ridge Reservation only have 6 to 8 officers each shift to respond to the over 133,755 calls for service a year in an area the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.  They are working unreasonable overtime hours averaging 80 overtime hours a month, and are responding to gun calls and other calls for service alone due to the understaffing and underfunding.  Investigation of crimes and prosecution of crimes is delayed due to this understaffing and delays in collection of evidence and completing investigations.   This is endangering both the officers and the public.

Further exacerbating the public safety crisis, federal detention policies require that all arrestees who are injured, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or present with mental issues, have a medical clearance before they are placed in detention.  These medical clearances can take, on average, more than 3 hours per individual.  These clearances regularly take one or more Pine Ridge Tribal Officers out of service for the duration of the clearance, leaving them unavailable to respond to calls, thus further decreasing the Tribes available officers to 4-6 per shift.

The public safety crisis is also straining the health care systems, the education systems, and is harming economic development efforts on the Reservation. Most importantly, the residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation are suffering from this crisis.

In announcing this lawsuit, President Killer issued the following statement:  

We deeply regret having to take this action against the Biden Administration and U.S. Secretary of the Interior, both of whom have been good friends to Oglala and the other tribes, but the level of violent crime, drugs and guns on the Pine Ridge Reservation has gotten out of hand.  Unfortunately, our efforts to resolve this crisis with the United States have not resulted in any action by the United States to meet their treaty obligations under the 1825 Treaty with the Oglala or the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, or the federal government’s trust responsibilities flowing from the treaties and other federal laws. Instead, since March 30, 2022 the federal government has refused to release any new law enforcement funds to the Tribe until the Tribe agrees to release its claim to additional funding under the contract with the BIA Office of Justice Services. This has deepened the public safety crisis and placed extraordinary financial strain on the Tribe and our tribal programs.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe has always strived to be a good neighbor and a law abiding, safe and secure tribal community. The Tribe is highly concerned for the welfare of its members, residents and visitors. No one should have to be concerned when they leave their home on our Reservation or travel to our tribal lands. While this litigation is regrettable, our Oglala Sioux Tribal Council is determined to protect its tribal members, reservation residents, local businesses and visitors. Whatever we need to do to stop this increase in crime, we will do.   We simply cannot, and will not, allow guns, drugs and violence to threaten our community anymore, it is just that simple.

The Tribe Council, your extended family, is asking all of our brothers, sisters and young relatives who are suffering to put down the guns, put down the drugs and alcohol, and come home to our beautiful culture and history.  Your Tribe will also be here to welcome you, and we will always be here to help you. 

The Oglala Sioux Tribe wants to express its strong support for the law enforcement claims which its friends and neighbors, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana brought against the Bureau of Indian Affairs on July 22, 2022. They too have had their law enforcement needs ignored and that is equally wrong.