Police, health providers weigh treatment vs. prosecution

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RAPID CITY, S.D. -

Health providers and law enforcement both serve to better the community, but just how they serve can be radically different.

Law enforcement and public health providers were asked, "How can culture be used to strengthen Pennington County initiatives?" at the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Health Board Summit on Tuesday in Rapid City. The meeting was held with people from both sides on how to better communicate and work together, especially with regard to the Native Community.

The medical and law enforcement entities agreed: they need to focus on restoration and healing instead of punishment. But first, health providers and police need to be on the same page with those they help.

"There's a lot of education on both sides of law enforcement and health care and with culture that needs to take place in order for the issues to be addressed," said Unified Tribal Health Board Chairman William Bear Shield.

Staff with Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Health Board said coming to terms with Native identity is a way for the healing process to begin. Jerilyn Church, the CEO of the health board, hopes to rehabilitate at a deeper level than just arresting those who break the law.

"Part of our identity as Lakota people is understanding those traditional values, those cultural values, those traditions that teach us how we should be in this world," Church said.

A number of new projects in Pennington County look to rehabilitate and heal, not punish. Rapid City Collective Impact's One Heart Center and Pennington County's Restoration Center hope to take some burden off of police too.

According to Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris, law enforcement plays a vital role in dealing with people when they're in a crisis situation - including making the determination whether they need treatment or punishment.

"We are on the front end, we are kind of the gate keeper when dealing with crisis situations," said Jegeris. "Is this situation going to handled in a criminal justice response, or is it going to be handled by the health system?"

Determining whether people should be handed through the law or health institutions, Jegeris said, is a matter of saving money.

"Right now, we are spending at times a ridiculous amount of taxpayer funds to address a low level social issue with a criminal justice response," Jegeris said.

As law enforcement and health providers grapple with the balance of treatment and prosecution -- they say communication is the first step. 

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