RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - An independent study on race relations in Rapid City shows friction between the Native American community and the mostly white police force, but also a desire to improve the situation.
The yearlong study was done by two University of South Dakota researchers. A community forum was held Tuesday night to discuss the findings, with more than 150 people attending.
Racial tensions have been strained by several incidents including Native American children being sprayed with beer during a minor league hockey game in January. A man accused of spilling the beer and using racial slurs was cleared of a disorderly conduct charge in September.
The study found distrust and a sense of mutual discrimination among police and American Indians, with both saying they feel racial prejudice from the other group.
Many Native Americans in the city believe they’re regularly profiled by police who they say assume Native populations are involved in crime, the Rapid City Journal reports. Another finding was that Native Americans make up 59 percent of those arrested, though they’re estimated to make up 23 percent of the Rapid City’s population.
But the study also found that there is a desire on the part of both to improve relations. One of the researchers, University of South Dakota professor Rich Braunstein, said police feel they can depend on the Native community to help in investigations, and that the community feels they can depend on police for protection.
Police Chief Karl Jegeris said the police department plans to form a cultural advisory committee made up of volunteer members from the community. The committee would advise Jegeris on race-related issues, working through department coordinator Vaughn Vargas.
“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,” Vargas said.