The state of South Dakota covers 77,184 square miles and is patrolled by 189 sworn personnel in the South Dakota Highway Patrol (SDHP). In addition to patrolling the highways, the SDHP has two SWAT teams, a Police Services dog unit, an accident reconstruction team, a crash assistance program, a motor carrier district, and capitol protective services. Among all these responsibilities and more, the SDHP works on a variety of community policing projects. Last year, District One, Aberdeen held a successful community policing project to help shed even more positive light on law enforcement in South Dakota.
Trooper Ben Pallesen came up with an idea to help a local community. One night when Trooper Pallesen was on patrol, a burglary in progress call came over the radio. While investigating the call, the Trooper was led to a wooded area that was poorly lighted, contained a lot of dead timber, and a lot of trash and broken bottles. As Trooper Palleson exited the wooded area, he noticed that it turned into a park where kids could play. Trooper Palleson thought to himself, “Would I let my kids play here and is it even safe?”
Trooper Pallenson thought that with seven other people, they could clean up the area in about eight hours. Trooper Palleson knew this was a community policing project the SDHP would embrace, so he started talking with folks about the project. And it took off from there. Like any good community policing project, many partners were involved. The Sisseton Wahpeton Housing Authority, the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribal Police, the Roberts County Sheriff’s Office, the South Dakota Motor Carrier Port of Entry, the City of Sisseton Street Department, and the Glacial Lakes Squad of the SD Highway Patrol all lent a hand.
Trooper Pallesen had a conversation with Tribal Police Chief Gary Gaikowski about the idea. “Most folks only see the tribe and state working to enforce laws,” said Trooper Pallesen. Chief Gaikowski liked the project idea and was willing to assist. Chief Gaikowsi got J.C. Crawford of the Sisseton Wahpeton Housing Authority and the Stillson family involved. The Stillson family is a well-known local family that owns the land that leads up to the park. They committed to bringing a skid loader and a truck to the project.
Unfortunately, the day of the project, the folks who were going to supply the truck and tools needed weren’t available. Not to be deterred, Trooper Palleson spoke to the maintenance staff at the housing authority. Trooper Palleson explained the project and said he didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to complete the project. Trooper Palleson eventually convinced the maintenance staff to help out.
About 30 people showed up to help with the project which was many more than expected. About half were cutting trees and the other half were picking up trash. The entire project took five hours. “The Stillson brothers brought coffee, juice, and donuts; citizens stopped by; basketball nets and new lighting were installed; and we received a lot of good feedback. We put it out on social media and received some good newspaper coverage as well,” said Pallesen.
Trooper Palleson continued, “This was a great example of different departments coming together. There was a tribal crew, a city crew, and the SDHP crew. It shed a light on the community. Yes, SDHP enforces laws and keeps roads safe, but we are willing to work together to benefit the whole community. Together we improved the aesthetics of the landscape, while also making the park safe and enjoyable for locals and children.”
Trooper Pallesen was born and raised in the area that received the help. “I now see kids out there playing basketball at 10 p.m. at night. It’s a sense of pride for us and for the community.”
According to Greg Stillson, “It was good for folks to see the troopers and us working together. To work so closely on a community policing level, to protect our parks and our natural resources was a great experience. We are all the same no matter our uniform, our parents, or our background. Projects like this only make our relationship better. A lot of people saw the troopers out there, confirming SDHP will go the extra mile.”
This blog post is part of a series highlighting best practices in advancing 21st century policing as part of the IACP Institute for Community-Police Relations. South Dakota Highway Patrol is one of fifteen sites selected for participation in the Advancing 21st Century Policing Initiative, a joint project of the COPS Office, CNA, and the IACP to highlight agencies who are actively embracing the principles in the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.