FIGHTING BACK: Community-led patrols have positive impact on violent crime in North Rapid City
RAPID CITY, S.D. — Residents who live on-edge in a North Rapid City neighborhood that was riddled with violence over the summer are now starting to sleep a little easier thanks to one group of volunteers.
The group of anywhere from 15 to 25 people have gathered seven nights a week since late August to patrol a set of housing complexes known as “The Big Three.” They’re not policing, but instead serve as a presence for good in a neighborhood that has seen so much senseless violence. The shootings and stabbings – mostly drug- and gang-related – plagued this area over the summer, including a double homicide.
“We knew it was bad,” said Pastor Jonathan Old Horse of Woyatan Church.
“We’re just trying to be bigger boots on the ground,” said volunteer Chris White Eagle. “[We’re] trying to de-escalate situations.”
White Eagle, who grew up in this neighborhood and runs the Wambli Ska Society, says their presence helps deter criminals. They’ve seen fewer unsavory characters milling about, but they also intervene in incidents like drunk driving.
“A lot of these homes are low-income people, women with children, and they get subjected to a lot of violence and ugly things that happen in the neighborhood,” Pastor Old Horse said.
Pastor Old Horse says the women of this community came forward and called on the men to help control the violence.
They do more than just walk the streets. They also help clean up the neighborhood on the weekends, sweeping up glass and painting over graffiti.
“When we start to not have pride in our community, when we allow broken windows and graffiti and all these things to happen, then people don’t take care of their own community,” Pastor Old Horse said. “This becomes a place where there’s not a lot of community development…[where] there’s not a lot of community vitality.”
The despair in this area is evident, with kicked-in doors, gang tags, and even human waste in the hallways. Walking through a building, the smell is horrendous, from the urine on the wall to a smell I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The volunteers tell us they believe that awful stench is from a meth lab.
The smell is not all, with broken glass and drug paraphernalia visible in the grass surrounding these buildings. White Eagle says criminals once tried to set the children’s play area on fire, while others have tried to destroy a small community garden plot located between apartment complexes.
PARTNERING FOR PEACE
Rapid City Police praise the group, calling their community involvement an “infinite force multiplier.” Community Relations Specialist Brendyn Medina says it’s exactly the type of action they’ve been begging for.
Rapid City Police opened a substation in the neighborhood back in July, with a patrol sergeant and several officers working out of it.
A COMMUNITY THAT CARES
These nightly patrols are making a tangible difference. Pastor Old Horse says the community response has been positive, with residents saying they’re finally starting to get a good night’s sleep. He also says people were starting to spend time gathered outside before the weather began getting cold.
“We want safe streets; we want safe schools; we want everything that everyone else does, you know?” Pastor Old Horse said. “We want a safe place to live.”