RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) – In the last few years, the Rapid City Police Department has seen an uptick in violent crimes — specifically in one neighborhood on the north side of the city.
Last month, police chief Don Hedrick put out a call to action to the residents of that area, asking them to step up and report any crime or suspicious activity they see. But making the community safe again goes beyond just that.
As you drive through the Knollwood Drive and Surfwood Drive area in north Rapid City, you see nice apartment buildings and town homes where you might consider raising your family. But the reality of this neighborhood tells a different story.
Crimes occur in one and they run to the other. That has been the typical pattern from the day I got hired here 15 years ago.Lt. Darren Soucy, Rapid City Police Department
“People get out of their cars, families get out of their cars, and they go right into their apartments. They don’t feel safe interacting within this small community itself,” Lt. Darren Soucy with the Rapid City Police Department said.
“That area of town is our primary hotspot. Just Sage Place apartments alone, over the last three years, had 157 violent instances. Most other apartment complexes of similar size average about 43. So you’re looking at a huge discrepancy there,” Rapid City Police Chief Don Hedrick said.
Hedrick says that same apartment complex has seen six homicides in the last three years.
“We’re not okay with that. It’s not a safe place to be when you allow things like that to happen,” Hedrick said.
“Very unique situation. Three large apartment complexes right next to each other sharing a lot of friends, family and, unfortunately, a lot of crime issues,” Soucy said. “The last few years, unfortunately, have just been a struggle.”
We’re out of patience. This community needs our help right now and it has to be immediate.Lt. Darren Soucy, Rapid City Police Department
Soucy says the seven officers and supervisor stationed in the neighborhood 24/7 are constantly busy.
Understanding that we have issues with broken homes, alcohol abuse, drug abuse and domestic violence compounded on gang issues, violence issues and unsupervised, lost youth looking for guidance and finding it with gang activity.Lt. Darren Soucy, Rapid City Police Department
But police say it’s not the people who live in these apartment buildings who are causing the violent issues.
“One thing that we see repeatedly is officers running into folks that are already involved in the criminal justice system,” Hedrick said. “So, for example, we’ll engage with somebody that commits a crime that’s already on probation or parole, that’s already out on bond after they committed a crime. They go out and they commit a new one.”
An example of that is a recent officer-involved shooting.
Ira Wright had an active arrest warrant when he ran from police in January. A DCI report says he had meth and marijuana in his system when he pointed a gun at an officer and was shot and killed. The investigation also found evidence that Wright had ties to a local gang and may have been dealing meth.
“Many of the folks engaged in violence are using methamphetamine or dealing it or have it with them, along with guns, which is a very concerning issue. Really, what we’re focused on in reducing violence is interrupting those that are engaging with guns and drugs,” Hedrick said.
The Rapid City Police Department has set up a substation right in the Knollwood and Surfwood Drive area to be a base for handling all of the calls that come in from this neighborhood, but also be a presence for the community. Something police say residents have wanted.
“We have good people living in the neighborhoods up there that are tired of it. They want to have a safe environment for their families,” Hedrick said.
Hedrick says police have a three-pronged approach to handling the neighborhood. The first is your traditional police work of traffic stops and being visible. The second is being there for neighbors. For that, they set up a full-time community engagement specialist.
The third prong comes down to what they need from the owners and management of these apartment buildings.
“When I was promoted to lieutenant a year and a half ago or so, one of the first things that I did was request that these places add security cameras. Maplewood Townhouses added them immediately and that has improved their safety and security,” Soucy said. “We just need the others to follow suit. And they are, they’re trying. Money is a big issue, obviously.”
The Sage Place apartments, formerly known as Knollwood Heights, recently got new owners and management — now there are signs on the building promising that change is coming.
“Many of the same things that we were asking management to do, simple things to make things safer, community members were asking for as well,” Hedrick said. “They want more lighting at night. They want to have doors with key-code access only; they want security on sight besides just police officers.”
All so this community can take back their homes from crime.
“I think ultimately we’d like to see smiles and kids playing outside. You know, running around playing catch or tag or whatever it is that they feel like the community would do, you know,” Soucy said. “We want people to feel safe and to come outside and enjoy it.”
KELOLAND News has reached out to the owners and managers of the apartment buildings in the Knollwood and Surfwood Drive area for an interview request, but have not heard back.
Right now, in moments like this, buildings like this say that the wrong people are in control.Lt. Darren Soucy, Rapid City Police Department
Soucy says another building on the corner of Knollwood Drive and Maple Street has become an eye sore with graffiti from gang members tagging it. It was formerly the Coco Palace, a Chinese food restaurant, but it is now abandoned.