As a tribal government, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe considers the safety of its citizens to be one of its highest priorities. In seeking to ensure public safety, the FSST faces challenges similar to those confronting law enforcement in other rural areas, including a growing methamphetamine drug crisis, high incidents of domestic violence, and alcohol related issues. Large distances, limited financial and human resources, and the patchwork nature of tribal lands resulting in overlapping and checkerboard jurisdictions further complicate law enforcement. The establishment of a tribally-owned casino in 1990 brought economic benefits to FSST, but also created additional demands on law enforcement to provide a secure environment for casino patrons, while protecting the community from crime often associated with gaming and an influx of non-residents to the area.
Tribal nations across Indian Country often cope with a multitude of entities, including tribal police, local sheriffs, state police, and federal agents, in providing law enforcement and public safety. Jurisdictional distinctions between tribal, federal, state, and local governments can create confusion in enforcement, delays in response, extensive paperwork, and frustrated citizens. Additionally, each jurisdiction may have different goals and enforcement practices, resulting in misunderstandings and lack of cultural sensitivity. For tribal nations in rural areas, the challenges are multiplied due to the large geographic areas needing coverage, the remoteness of locations, and limited money and manpower available for enforcement. Creating partnerships between local and regional law enforcement agencies offers tribal nations the opportunity to meet the needs of their communities while exercising self-governance.
In 2000, FSST and the City of Flandreau formed a Public Safety Commission (PSC) made up of city and tribal leaders, business people, health and educational professionals, and other community members. The PDC set out to conduct a study to evaluate law enforcement options within the City of Flandreau . Out of this emerged a joint power agreement between the Tribe and City designed to enhance public safety, promote intergovernmental relations, and improve the general quality of life facing the rural community. Under the joint power agreement, the Tribe and the City formed the Flandreau Police Department (FPD).
The FPD is structured around a commitment to community policing that not only involves the community in law enforcement, but also creates a cadre of officers and staff who reflect, understand, and are trained as a part of the larger Flandreau community. As a consequence, public safety for all citizens is a primary mandate. Officers receive extensive training that encompasses community policing, safety and tribal laws. To further enhance community policing principles, the PSC members attend trainings as well.
Five years after the establishment of the FPD, law enforcement in the community continues to improve. Crime reporting rates are rising, signaling improved public understanding of, trust in, and communication with the FPD. Once plagued by drunk driving, the FPD's action in increasing Driving Under the Influence (DUI) arrests by 100% has given Flandreau a reputation for being tough on DUI offenders, and incidents are decreasing. The implementation of a strategic plan to combat a methamphetamine crisis through education, treatment, and enforcement has resulted in increased arrests and enrollment in treatment facilities. The level of trust the FPD has engendered in the community itself is another measure of success. Structured and informal interactions with students, businesses, and other community members have paved the way to increased communication and a sense of joint responsibility in community improvement. The FPD is not an adversary, but a partner in collective community action.
As the Flandreau Police Department grows and evolves, it will continue to be a model for partnerships between tribal and municipal governments. The creation of the Public Safety Commission and the Flandreau Police Department has enabled the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe to join legal and financial resources with the City of Flandreau . As a result, both the Tribe and the City are better able to manage multiple jurisdictions and common concerns while providing effective law enforcement for the region's shared citizenry. The success of the PSC and the FPD demonstrates how fostering and enhancing communications and coordination between tribal and non-tribal communities, agencies, and governments can strengthen the ability of tribal government to better serve their citizens.
- Inter-governmental agreements and agencies enable tribal governments to leverage resources in serving their citizens while still maintaining sovereignty in the decision-making process.
- Establishing and institutionalizing an independent entity for managing law enforcement ensures the continuity and constancy of public safety efforts by creating a buffer from political or governmental instability.
- Law enforcement systems run by and for a community foster a sense of citizen responsibility and ownership, and lead to reduced crime, increased cultural sensitivity, and enhanced community well-being.