Saturday, February 4, 2012

Crime persists, in face of law enforcement "surge," in Indian Country

One headline for this story in yesterday's New York Times refers to the Wind River Indian Reservation as a place where "brutality is banal." Wind River is in Central Wyoming. Here's an excerpt from Timothy Williams story in the Times:
The Obama administration, which has made reducing crime a priority in its attempt to improve the quality of life at dozens of Indian reservations plagued by violence, recently ended a two-year crime-fighting initiative at Wind River and three other reservations deemed to be among the country's most dangerous.
The enhanced presence of law enforcement officers, mostly from the National Park Service and other federal agencies, was called "the surge," after the strategy used during the Iraq war. It put about 10 extra officers on the Wind River Reservation. The result, however, was a 7% rise in violent crime. For other other reservations, the surge led to a drop in crime. The Mescalero Apache in New Mexico saw a 68% decline.

The crime statistics are not the only sobering ones out of Wind River, where the high school drop out rate is a devastating 40%, and the suicide rate among teens that is more than twice that in the rest of Wyoming. The story continues:
Some blame Wind River's geographic isolation and a general apathy on the reservation, while others point to the numerous troubled children being raised by grandparents unable to keep track of them.

During a recent Friday night patrol on the reservation, Michael Shockley, a Wind River police officer whose department lacks even the basic ability to track crimes, said he was surprised to learn that the surge had not reduced violent crime.

Even with 10 fewer officers than it had during the surge, Officer Shockley said, the Police Department responds to all calls, not just the most serious ones. Crime, he said, has appeared to ebb, especially when compared with what he referred to as the bad old days, when on a single night about a year ago, he drove a total of 400 miles, logged 42 calls and arrested 19 people.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs oversees the Wind River Police Department, and it believes the rise in violent crime is a consequence of people more often reporting violent crime during the surge, crime they might have ignored previously. The Bureau reports that the crime rate has fallen since the "surge" ended in October, though it did not provide details of the drop. In a statement that reflects low expectations of officers' ability to respond in a timely fashion, one resident reportedly told the Wind River police chief during the surge, "If I knew you were going to come immediately, I'd have called you later."

The Wind River Reservation straddles Fremont and Hot Springs counties in Wyoming, an area that was the subject of this recent post about fracking.

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