Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris

Into the Breach: Rapid City Police Chief Seeks to Heal Fractured Community

David Rooks
3/14/16

“It’s very clear to me there is a tension in the air; an anger you can’t touch – yet, it’s there.”

—Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris

On Wednesday, Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris introduced the members of his new community advisory committee to the Rapid City Police Department. The committee’s formation, primarily in response to community anger over four officer-involved shootings in recent years, took on greater urgency in the wake of an alleged racial incident at an event in the city’s civic center a year ago that sparked a regional firestorm of anger.

When interview, Jegeris said, “I haven’t been the chief for two years yet, and we’ve had four officer-involved shootings. That’s alarming to me. For us, in the small town of Rapid City, the frequency today – compared to what we had 10 years ago – is much more tragic. We typically would go a year without any officer-involved shootings. Now we’re averaging two or more a year.”

Jegeris tapped Rapid Citian, Vaughn Vargas, a young Si Tanka Lakota and member of the nearby Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, to head the committee. Vargas is an engineering student at Rapid City School of Mines. Other members of the committee include Oliver White, Erik Bringswhite, Eric Whicher, Gary Nelson, Tim Doyle, Anthony Picket-Pin, Jennifer Giroux, Susie DeHart, Kayla Pritchard, Linda Palzkill, Lloyd LaCroix, Beverly Lafferty, Harriet Brings and Thomas Raymond.

The formation of the committee is the latest in a series of initiatives Jegeris hopes will build bridges between Rapid City’s sizeable American Indian population and a majority population that has often been characterized as, at best indifferent to its minority members’ culture and needs. Jegeris says that, because this lack of understanding did not spring up overnight, it will take large doses of patience, on every side, to overcome it.

Jegeris said nothing in his early life prepared him for his current posting, which isn’t exactly Mayberry, RFD. His father emigrated from Latvia, but beyond the occasional spark from siblings, it was fairly staid. Raised in a suburb of Minneapolis, Jegeris came to Rapid City right after college to join the RCPD in 1995.

“My childhood was content free of the chaos of crime,” said Jegeris. “My first exposure to conflict was my first day on the streets as a police officer. In the first 30 days, I experienced what wasicu (white person) and winkte (homosexual) meant. I got some understanding of what Rapid City’s conflict involved.

“I was very fortunate to have as my first training officer Jerry Big Eagle, a Lakota officer now retired after 20 years on the force.” After a few years, Jegeris admits he developed a preconceived notion of what the Pine Ridge Reservation, 110 miles to the south, was like. He’d heard many stories, some from Officer Big Eagle, some from people he had interacted with on the streets.

“So, in the summer of 1996, I decided to jump into my car and go see for myself,” Jegeris said. “I figured I’d find extreme poverty, a lot of social problems related to the need for police services, etc. Going down there made me understand [the Lakota people] more. It helped me understand why there are higher levels of frustration.” Jegeris also said he came to know Native people on a footing of equal respect and friendship.

In 2007, Officer Jegeris, with then Police Chief Steve Allender, initiated a formal officer exchange program between the RCPD and the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Dept. of Public Safety. He’d noticed RCPD had little to no relationship with the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Public Safety force; despite the fact that a sizeable portion of Rapid City’s Native population came from the Pine Ridge Reservation, and many of whom regularly go back and forth.

“There was just no interaction,” said Jegeris. “But it’s necessary because we’re often dealing with the same [law breakers]. We have issues where we have a major crime, Pine Ridge should be instantly notified – and vice versa when they do – so we can work together.”

He believes the exchange program, which ran for five years, was an unqualified success. “At least 70 of our officers took part in it and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. They said they really learned to see things through the eyes of their Lakota brothers in law enforcement.”

The main objectives for the program, according to Jegeris, were to have Rapid City’s officers experience Lakota culture first-hand in a good way, and to develop meaningful relationships with their Lakota brothers and sisters in law enforcement. “We’re engaged with the Native American community on a very frequent basis; last year, 63 percent of arrests were Native American; we do have disproportionate minority contact.”

Jegeris’ experiences and initiatives came in very handy when, not eight months into his tour as new Rapid City Police Chief, he faced a fast-moving community prairie fire when a year ago in February, 57 Lakota children from the American Horse School, in attendance for a hockey game, had beer poured on them and were attacked by racial slurs from a group of non-Natives in a VIP suit. The incident at the city’s civic center gave the perception of being swept under the rug further fueling the tensions within the community.,

RELATED: Racism in Rapid City: Calls for Accountability Continue Weeks After Harassment

It produced outrage, and it went viral. Within a few days, a contingent of the American Indian Movement based in Minneapolis held a press conference and rally, and held a protest march down the city’s main street. Through town halls with Jegeris and then Mayor Sam Kooiker in attendance, the Native Community saw real sincerity in their outreach from the top. Tensions began to cool, and real possibilities for change began to seem possible.

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bullbear's picture
bullbear
Submitted by bullbear on
Where is the rest of this story, Mr. Rooks? Whatever became of hell storm that followed the outrageous acts of the so-called VIPers? Tribal members from across the nation have not forgotten how the youth were hatefully and maliciously treated. Although I have attended a major education conference in Rapid City along with thousands of other tribal members, I, for one, will never venture there again. Let me put it this way, I have 7 loving and beautiful granddaughters and if a bunch of drunkardly non-natives threw beer on them and told them to go back to the reservation, my blood would boil for a good long time. And if natives did this, you bet that I would feel great shame and state my reactions of these dreadfully hateful acts. I do appreciate the effort of Rapid City P.D. to work closer with tribal law enforcement, but it will take many years and building of trusting relationships before there can be a realistic good neighbor demeanor. AIM still has our back and I am grateful for their brave, heroic stance, knowing they will not back down to anyone or any malcontent treatment of brothers and sisters.

jamesswan's picture
jamesswan
Submitted by jamesswan on
We "United Urban Warrior Society" will not work with or support this group! Some protests are coming! It’s just a hand full of puppets..Didn’t Tim Doyle Co author a book with racial overtones? Lloyd Lacroix set on City council for a couple years and didn’t do one thing for the Native community that helped him get there? Others made up from law enforcement and former Correctional officers and parole officers...Then there is Vaughn who isn’t even connected to the Native Community Spiritual or Culturally? Erik is the only eligible person in this whole group! And these are your pick to help heal the relationship between natives and non natives? What a joke! Should have let us pick our own leaders!.....You need to focus on getting the Meth and its dealers off the streets of Rapid City first! http://dakotawarcollege.com/political-prostitution-by-charity-doyle-read-this-book-and-start-to-wonder-who-exactly-you-elected/

jamesswan's picture
jamesswan
Submitted by jamesswan on
We will not work with or support this group! Some protests are coming! It’s just a hand full of puppets..Didn’t Tim Doyle Co author a book with racial overtones? Lloyd Lacroix set on City council for a couple years and didn’t do one thing for the Native community that helped him get there? Others made up from law enforcement and former Correctional officers and parole officers...Then there is Vaughn who isn’t even connected to the Native Community Spiritual or Culturally? Erik is the only eligible person in this whole group! And these are your pick to help heal the relationship between natives and non natives? What a joke! Should have let us pick our own leaders!.....You need to focus on getting the Meth and its dealers off the streets of Rapid City first! http://dakotawarcollege.com/political-prostitution-by-charity-doyle-read-this-book-and-start-to-wonder-who-exactly-you-elected/

jamesswan's picture
jamesswan
Submitted by jamesswan on
We will choose our own representatives! ....NOT! The Police Chief and the Mayor! The Rapid City Police handpicked and appointed a “Cultural Advisory Coordinator” To deal with race relation issues in Rapid City, SD. And Rapid City Mayor is also considering hiring a liaison officer to City Council. The mayor also announced he is considering hiring a tribal liaison officer to improve relations with Native Americans. “Just looking over the last 10 or 20 years we don't have a great history to be proud of with how we've gotten along with Native Americans,” he said. (Correction 150-200 years) “So this person would make sure that we're being fair and open and protecting the interests of the Native people as well as everyone's.”The mayor said he expected a decision on whether to hire a liaison officer by the summer.(What we need is a Native “SEAT” on City Council) WE! The Native American community “MUST” produce our own person for these two positions! NOT those who have historically opposed us! And those chosen must be Culturally and Spiritually connected to the people! Or they will not be accepted! 1) Will they know our traditional spirituality? The seven Lakota rites? Wocekiya - Prayer Woksape - Wisdom Wowicake - Honesty Waohola - Respect Wahwala - Humiliy Waunsila - Compassion Wawokiye - Generosity 2) Will they even participate or acknowledge these sacred ceremonies? 3) Will they know what this means for Lakota peoples? 4) What have they done for the people? The homeless? The Children? The elders? 5) Will they just talk a good talk and make a fancy speeches? 6) Will they be assimilated? Christian? Suit and tie? (that wont work)? 7) Will they do this for the money or because it’s in your heart? 8) Will they speak and write our language? 9) Will they understand and support our Treaties? 10) Will they understand tribal sovereignty? 11) What is their goal? Will you manipulate their goals to fit your need or will they truly represent us, no matter what? 12) What is their goal for us? What will they want from us? Where will they draw the line? 13) Will they be able to address the people themself, without your guidance or manipulation? 14) Will they answer any questions from the people, truthfully? Or will they give us your answers or will they mediate between us? 15) Are they going to represent the Native People to the Police! Or are they representing the Police to the Native people? If most! If not all these apply! We will not accept them! Plain and simple! If the Native Community can’t pick our own representatives then we will not accept them! And that’s the bottom line. We will be waiting for your answer! We will choose our own representatives! ....NOT! The Police Chief and the Mayor! JAMES MAGASKA SWAN·THURSDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2015 The Rapid City Police handpicked and appointed a “Cultural Advisory Coordinator” To deal with race relation issues in Rapid City, SD. And Rapid City Mayor is also considering hiring a liaison officer to City Council. The mayor also announced he is considering hiring a tribal liaison officer to improve relations with Native Americans. “Just looking over the last 10 or 20 years we don't have a great history to be proud of with how we've gotten along with Native Americans,” he said. (Correction 150-200 years) “So this person would make sure that we're being fair and open and protecting the interests of the Native people as well as everyone's.”The mayor said he expected a decision on whether to hire a liaison officer by the summer.(What we need is a Native “SEAT” on City Council) WE! The Native American community “MUST” produce our own person for these two positions! NOT those who have historically opposed us! And those chosen must be Culturally and Spiritually connected to the people! Or they will not be accepted! 1) Will they know our traditional spirituality? The seven Lakota rites? Wocekiya - Prayer Woksape - Wisdom Wowicake - Honesty Waohola - Respect Wahwala - Humiliy Waunsila - Compassion Wawokiye - Generosity 2) Will they even participate or acknowledge these sacred ceremonies? 3) Will they know what this means for Lakota peoples? 4) What have they done for the people? The homeless? The Children? The elders? 5) Will they just talk a good talk and make a fancy speeches? 6) Will they be assimilated? Christian? Suit and tie? (that wont work)? 7) Will they do this for the money or because it’s in your heart? 8) Will they speak and write our language? 9) Will they understand and support our Treaties? 10) Will they understand tribal sovereignty? 11) What is their goal? Will you manipulate their goals to fit your need or will they truly represent us, no matter what? 12) What is their goal for us? What will they want from us? Where will they draw the line? 13) Will they be able to address the people themself, without your guidance or manipulation? 14) Will they answer any questions from the people, truthfully? Or will they give us your answers or will they mediate between us? 15) Are they going to represent the Native People to the Police! Or are they representing the Police to the Native people? If most! If not all these apply! We will not accept them! Plain and simple! If the Native Community can’t pick our own representatives then we will not accept them! And that’s the bottom line. We will be waiting for your answer! The Oyate

jamesswan's picture
jamesswan
Submitted by jamesswan on
Working towards changes in Rapid City!...Demanding a Safe Community Environment for Our Native People! Listed below are the changes I feel are a start and these ideas will be implemented by a representative from both sides on an equal platform. Some of these may be elected by our own community to represent us as a whole. No longer will we allow the other side to lead, manipulate or control the course of these Ideas or programs. We must as a community and with the support of our Treaty rights assume our own leadership meeting the other side only on an equal platform! Any other way, will not work! No more NEGOTIATIONS on their terms! 1) Reinstate the officer exchange program between Tribal and Rapid City Law enforcement agencies including Pine Ridge and Eagle Butte agencies. 2) Add a Native American City Council member to represent the Native American Community. One that the native community will vote for! 3) Make district changes in North Rapid City so that the Native Community will have an equal and fair say in their own community. 4) Replace the management team at Lakota Homes and replace it with a native team including the director’s position. 5) Promotion and profile Native leaders and encourage Native Americans to pursue political positions in Rapid City as well as in the School System. 6) Promote Native teachers and require “ALL” 12-grade students to take a Native History class taught by a Native American Teacher in High School. 7) Require “ALL” officers to attend a Cultural Sensitivity class before they are allowed to patrol the streets. With annual refresher courses. 8) Establish an “AKICITA” (Neighborhood watch program) to patrol North Rapid City) and any Native American event held in Rapid City. 9) Greater community involvement local law enforcement. In and out of Uniform. 10) Better cooperation between Native Activist (Third Party) and Law Enforcement. 11) Establish monthly or Bi-monthly “Vent” meetings between law enforcement and the Native American Community. Hosted on neutral grounds out of Uniform, by leaders from both sides on Equal platforms. 12) Calling out local media to step up and give the Native community equal and fair publicity. In closing the Native American will host a quarterly forum to address these issues and the progresses being made! Both! successes and failures. Keeping the focus on what is working, and making adjustments on what’s not. James “Magaska” Swan ~UUWS~

jamesswan's picture
jamesswan
Submitted by jamesswan on
Working towards changes in Rapid City!...Demanding a Safe Community Environment for Our Native People! Listed below are the changes I feel are a start and these ideas will be implemented by a representative from both sides on an equal platform. Some of these may be elected by our own community to represent us as a whole. No longer will we allow the other side to lead, manipulate or control the course of these Ideas or programs. We must as a community and with the support of our Treaty rights assume our own leadership meeting the other side only on an equal platform! Any other way, will not work! No more NEGOTIATIONS on their terms! 1) Reinstate the officer exchange program between Tribal and Rapid City Law enforcement agencies including Pine Ridge and Eagle Butte agencies. 2) Add a Native American City Council member to represent the Native American Community. One that the native community will vote for! 3) Make district changes in North Rapid City so that the Native Community will have an equal and fair say in their own community. 4) Replace the management team at Lakota Homes and replace it with a native team including the director’s position. 5) Promotion and profile Native leaders and encourage Native Americans to pursue political positions in Rapid City as well as in the School System. 6) Promote Native teachers and require “ALL” 12-grade students to take a Native History class taught by a Native American Teacher in High School. 7) Require “ALL” officers to attend a Cultural Sensitivity class before they are allowed to patrol the streets. With annual refresher courses. 8) Establish an “AKICITA” (Neighborhood watch program) to patrol North Rapid City) and any Native American event held in Rapid City. 9) Greater community involvement local law enforcement. In and out of Uniform. 10) Better cooperation between Native Activist (Third Party) and Law Enforcement. 11) Establish monthly or Bi-monthly “Vent” meetings between law enforcement and the Native American Community. Hosted on neutral grounds out of Uniform, by leaders from both sides on Equal platforms. 12) Calling out local media to step up and give the Native community equal and fair publicity. In closing the Native American will host a quarterly forum to address these issues and the progresses being made! Both! successes and failures. Keeping the focus on what is working, and making adjustments on what’s not. James “Magaska” Swan ~UUWS~
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