May 07--A federal decision in 2009, to bolster law enforcement on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation and three other tribal communities around the country has had a local impact on crime.
The U.S. Department of the Interior, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, reported the Safe Indian Communities initiative far exceeded its goal with a 68 percent decrease in violent crime in the Mescalero community during its two-year run.
In March 2010, testimony before the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee heard of a nationwide need for 2,800 more BIA police officers, especially at high crime reservations. Four reservations, including Mescalero, were selected for increased law enforcement presence. A goal of a 5 percent reduction in crime on the four reservations was established.
"Very successful," Marcelino ToersBijns, the assistant special agent in charge of the BIA Office of Justice Services in the region, said of the Mescalero results. ToersBijns was the project manager for the Mescalero initiative.
A model for other Native American reservations, the Mescalero example will be tried at two new locations.
"And we're hoping it continues on," ToersBijns said. "Everything that we learned and everything that we did in this initiative, we shared with these two new sites."
ToersBijns said the ratio of police officers at Mescalero was increased to 3.5 per 1,000 population. Nationally, reservations average 2.5 officers for every 1,000 people on a reservation.
had been understaffed for some time," ToersBijns said. "Actually we were doing very well probably about 3 1/2 to 4 years ago. But because of promotions, personal reasons, things like that, the numbers had slowly decreased that put us in a situation that we were low on the numbers. But Mescalero was chosen based on the crime data. Those numbers were very high on the Part 1 offenses."
Part 1 involves major crimes. A program analyst also is used to find the peaks and locations in the community where crime has been a problem.
"Which allows us to focus in on police services," ToersBijhns said. "Basically if there's one community that maybe saw an increase in assaults due to parties, and certain activities that had certain types of hours, these activities will be identified, given to the agency. The agency then will have shift task assignments -- telling the officers what locations or what type of periods, and make it a focus. And that has proved very effective."
The Safe Indian Communities initiative included targeted community policing. A little more than two years ago the BIA began moving in additional police officers to Mescalero, the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, Rocky Boys in Montana and Standing Rock in North and South Dakota.
"The positive results from the pilot program are extremely encouraging and far surpassed our goals," said Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior. "We are committed to building on that progress and will be expanding the Safe Indian Communities initiative to other reservations that are experiencing high levels of violent crime."
While the Safe Indian Communities program has concluded at Mescalero, the heightened law enforcement will continue.
"The whole concept is alive," ToersBijns said. "The staffing level is a permanent change. We're continuing to grow and still fine-tune our strategies."
The increased law enforcement at Mescalero also has increased DWI checkpoints.
"It's a nice thing to see when the response from the community or even the people that we stopped that we find sober drivers," ToersBijns said. "The main comments say 'Well, we knew you were out here so we're making sure that we have a designated driver.' There's a lot of texting and messages going around to the community that are saying, 'Hey, they're having the checkpoints. Make sure you don't drink and drive.' Things like that in the community we didn't see that before."
ToersBijns said the reaction from reservation residents has been positive. And BIA police are working with other law enforcement agencies in the area. He said the officers at Mescalero are extremely dedicated.
"They really take the community at heart," ToersBijns said. "I have not received any complaints on them. The things they do, their actions speak louder than words. And not just the officers -- we're talking about dispatchers and administrative support staff and investigations. I mean these folks, they stuck it out and the demands were very high."
Copyright 2012 - Ruidoso News, N.M.