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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

145 N Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20530

October 2019 | Volume 12 | Issue 9

Rapid City Police Department partnered with the COPS office on Microgrant award 2017CKWX0014 ‘Rapid City Police Department’s Akicita Native American Law Enforcement Recruit Development Program’.

With the goal of increasing Native American employment to more closely reflect the community it serves, the Rapid City (South Dakota) Police Department (RCPD) partnered with the local technical college, Western Dakota Tech (WDT) to create a mentorship and by a grant through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office). The successful program can serve as a model for other law enforcement agencies looking to increase Native American employment. 


Rapid City is home to many Native Americans, primarily Lakota. The 2010 U.S. Census reported that Native Americans accounted for 12.4 percent of the city’s general population at the time, with 80.4 percent of the population reported as white.

With several Native American officers already on the force, the RCPD set out to specifically increase its recruitment and hiring efforts. A committee was formed with representation from interested community members and RCPD leadership and employees, including current and retired Native American officers, to brainstorm ideas.

The committee discussed how some of the central ideas of community policing were an important part of Lakota history. The Lakota’s Akicita Society provided structure and policing in their camps, among other important duties; an Akicita position came with great respect and great responsibility. The Akicita were the guardians, the protectors of the people, and the keepers of order.

The committee decided that honoring the importance of the Akicita could be a culturally appropriate way to connect with Native Americans and, hopefully, attract them into considering law enforcement as a career.

College Partnership

In early 2017, RCPD Chief of Police Karl Jegeris approached WDT President Ann Bolman, Ed.D., with a proposal that the college assist the RCPD in the Akicita mentorship and recruiting program. WDT was the perfect fit for the program, as it has a longstanding successful academic program to train law enforcement officers, and it has a Native American student population that ranges between 10 and 14 percent. President Bolman enthusiastically agreed to join forces for the benefit of all.

Akicita Program – Making A Difference

Notable program achievements made possible as a result of the COPS Office grant include the following:

  • October 2018—Mentorship program begins. Twenty-one WDT criminal justice students were paired with a local law enforcement mentor. Throughout the school year, students joined their mentors for law enforcement ride-alongs, job shadowing, meetings, and interactions with other professionals as their mentors arranged for opportunities to explore the many facets of criminal justice.
  • December 6, 2018—Recognition ceremony hosted for Akicita mentors and students during a special ceremony at WDT. 
  • March 28, 2019—Craig Howe, Ph.D., from the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies (CAIRNS) on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, presented information about the Wounded Knee Massacre to Akicita students and mentors following a special luncheon in Rapid City.
  • April 18, 2019—An Akicita Program Criminal Justice Expo took place at WDT. Featured breakout sessions for high school students included a Criminal Justice program tour, a career fair featuring law enforcement agencies, an Akicita Mentorship panel including law enforcement and current Akicita program students, and an overview of the WDT Criminal Justice program. A significant achievement was the attendance of almost 30 high school students from Pine Ridge High School. The school is on the Pine Ridge reservation, about two hours from Rapid City; Native American recruitment for tribal police and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) employment on the reservation has been difficult as well.
  • April 23, 2019—The Defamation Experience, a nationally-staged play addressing issues including race, class, religion, and gender, was performed at the college for all WDT criminal justice and law enforcement students, law enforcement mentors, faculty and staff, and special guests. During the play, the audience becomes the jury and deliberates the outcome of a trial.
  • Throughout the program—Several media stories about the program shone a positive spotlight on the RCPD and WDT. This included local TV news stories as well as articles in the city’s daily newspaper, the Rapid City Journal, and the area’s weekly Native newspaper, the Native Sun News. The media coverage helped increase knowledge and excitement about the program.

Don Hedrick, Rapid City Assistant Chief of Police, left, was the Akicita mentor to Western Dakota Tech Criminal Justice - Law Enforcement student Cecelia White Eagle, right.

The Akicita Mentorship Program has proven to be a win-win for all involved—the RCDP, WDT, criminal justice students, law enforcement mentors, and the Rapid City community.

Chief Jegeris said he and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom fully support the Akicita Program and are pleased with the positive feedback received from their participating mentors.

“Sheriff Thom and I want to do everything we can to reflect the diversity in the communities we serve,” he said. “We are basically working with Western Dakota Tech to hand grow those individuals who will be hopefully joining our, and other area, law enforcement organizations in the future.”

Heidi Mecham was the Akicita Mentorship Program Project Support Specialist; this position ended with grant conclusion and the duties are being absorbed by the RCPD and WDT. She shared her thoughts regarding the program:

“Students were enthusiastic to have the program going; they were eager to explore the field of criminal justice with a professional in the field. After being paired with their mentor and asked how the meetings are going, the students’ responses were smiles and positive comments,” Mecham said.

“Mentors were eager to work with our students and help them explore the field and provide insight and support. We have had a great response from the agencies involved,” she added.

It is too early right now to provide definitive data regarding the impact of the Akicita Mentorship Program. However, the organizations are seeing successful candidates being produced by the program, with the RCPD recently hiring one program alumni.

Next Steps

The Rapid City Police Department and Western Dakota Tech will continue to partner to offer the Akicita Mentorship Program to Native American Criminal Justice students. They will also host an annual law enforcement recruiting event with an emphasis on Native American recruitment.

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