RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — The Knollwood neighborhood of Rapid City is known for a surge in violent crime in recent years, but work is being done to uplift the community, starting with the youth.

There are many ways to reduce crime in a neighborhood, Rapid City police chief Don Hedrick said. While the department could just flood the neighborhood with police and increase stops, Hedrick and the RCPD are trying something else in Knollwood.

“I think it’s important for us to meet with the folks living there, the folks that are invested that care, that want to make things better and find out what’s important to them, and find out what their goals for their neighborhood are,” Hedrick said.

So, the department has taken a three-step approach: 1) Increased enforcement including a new substation in the neighborhood. 2) Meeting with community members and building trust. 3) And connecting with management in the neighborhood who also have a stake in what happens.

That’s where Tyler Read comes in.

Read is a community-based Reduction Outreach Specialist for the RCPD. His job is to connect with the members of the community to build trust and improve relationships with the residents and law enforcement.

“You know, when I first came to this neighborhood there was kind of a stigma and relationship that is a little bit strained between the police and our north side community,” Read said.

Among the homes that make up the Knollwood neighborhood is a converted townhouse with books, video games, crayons, snacks, and water. That’s where Read works.

Games for youth to enjoy in the Knollwood neighborhood in Rapid City.

“I’ve been here for almost two years now, almost every day, the kids can come up by get a snack, have a place a safe place to stay, play games,” Read said.

Rebuilding broken trust is not a quick process, Read said, instead it starts slowly and with a lot of patience and understanding.

Working within the neighborhood allows Read to meet and connect directly with the residents he’s serving on a daily basis. While he’s built relationships with families over the last couple of years, it wasn’t that easy at the beginning.

“You start by serving those who will allow you to serve them. And when I first came into the neighborhood, honestly, that was only the kids, the kids were the ones that don’t have those barriers built up,” Read said.

The distrust of law enforcement didn’t happen overnight in this community, Read explained. Instead, he continued, it’s informed by many years of generational trauma. While most police officers don’t have the time to build that trust, Read’s job is built to only focus on that.

“Our officers, you know, they’re, they’re busy doing what I call ‘fire jumping’, and going from fire to fire, each emergency, they don’t always have the time to sit with the family after that scary thing has occurred and talk to them saying, ‘Are you alright? What, what could we do to, you know, help this situation, so it doesn’t happen again?’” Read explained.

As a fixture in the Knollwood community, Read is able to be there every day for residents, getting to know them and better understand how to serve them.

“You know, when looking at the issues in our communities, the answers to them are in the communities as well,” Read said.

And the answers that residents have come up with have been unique to their culture as many residents in Knollwood are Native American.

“A few months ago, he came to us and said, ‘Hey, I have this really cool idea. Folks in the neighborhood think it would be great to bring in horses, Equestrian Therapy,’” police chief Don Hedrick said. “And, you know, that’s a very radical new type of idea, but it was speaking to the culture of the neighborhood. And we said, Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s try it.”

Read and RCPD brought in horses from North Dakota and the kids, including Read’s daughter, were able to interact with them. 

“Yeah, well, you know, the Lakota people are also known as you know, they’re a horse nation,” Read said. “There’s a connection that we see and experience with our youth when they connect with horses. And so, programs have come to understand this and really explore what that means.”

Events like that provide the community with the opportunity to ask for what they need, Read explained. It also helps law enforcement better understand the communities they are serving.

Read has also hosted frequent bake sales in the neighborhood called Hoodcakes. The sales as well as frequent barbecues and other events help provide activities for the children while also connecting parents and other residents with Rapid City police officers in order to help rebuild trust.

“And things are going better since we’ve increased our efforts,” Hedrick said. “And I think the substation has been a very positive thing, folks in the community have reached out to us and have acknowledged how they appreciate that presence and having a police presence in the safety presence has made people feel better.”

It’s a lot of work but both Read and the department are happy with the success the neighborhood has seen so far. Chief Hedrick called the work Read’s been doing “remarkable.” For Read, he hopes his work inspires the community to continue to improve itself.

“And I can tell you that some of the kids have been coming around almost every day, for the last two years. And those that have, I can tell that it makes a difference to them,” Read said. “You know, they say, ‘You do good things around here, Tyler,’ and I appreciate it. And I tell them, ‘You’re next buddy, I need you to take this, I can’t do it forever. You got to learn how to do this next.’”