Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender took office on Monday. On Friday, his successor in the police department, Chief Karl Jegeris, announced that he is hiring Lakota speaker and student-activist Vaughn Vargas as cultural advisor, a new part-time position in the RCPD. Here’s the full press release from School of Mines, where Vargas is currently studying:
South Dakota School of Mines & Technology senior and national Udall Scholar Vaughn Vargas has been appointed to a newly-created crime-prevention role as cultural advisor with the Rapid City Police Department.
Vargas, an industrial engineering and engineering management major, was announced today to the new part-time position by Police Chief Karl Jegeris. Vaughn will lead a culturally diverse committee of community representatives who will guide development of new police efforts and strengthen existing programs and communication efforts to enhance trust within the community.
“To be clear, this is a significant crime prevention effort. As a department we are always looking to stand on the forefront of methods and techniques to stop crime at its roots. I am ready to move forward with a drastically new and proactive approach to prevent future residents like Mr. Vargas from going down a similar path, when they clearly have the potential for success,” said Jegeris, referring to Vaughn’s previous experiences in the criminal justice system. “After careful consideration, I am confident that his past adversities enable him to better represent a cross section of the community that our department disproportionately engages with on a daily basis.”
Vargas received the prestigious national Udall Scholarship in 2014 and was named a Udall alternate in 2015 and has shared his motivational story with many community groups, in addition to leading student initiatives at South Dakota Mines.
SD Mines President Heather Wilson said Vargas is a good role model for positive choices young people can make.
“I commend the chief of police for bringing a cultural advisor into the department. Vaughn Vargas is a Udall Scholar and an exceptional young leader at the School of Mines. I’ve gotten to know him personally over the past two years and he has always been very open about poor choices he made when he was younger and how he got his life on a better path, in part by coming to Mines. He listens with care and speaks with compassion and understanding. We are proud of the leader he is becoming and the role model that he is. I’m confident Rapid City will benefit from his service,” Wilson said.
Vargas was the first South Dakota Mines student to receive the Udall distinction, one of five prestigious, national scholarships established by the U.S. Congress and which honors students committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy or Native American healthcare.
He is an active board member of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition and has shared his story as a motivational speaker with various community organizations, including the OLC Student Leadership Conference, Box Elder Job Corps, ARC of the Black Hills, Wellspring Treatment Center, Awareness Counseling and Cornerstone Rescue Mission.
Vargas has been awarded a multitude of honors during his academic career, first at Oglala Lakota College (OLC) and Black Hills State University, then at South Dakota Mines. He has been Mr. AIHEC (American Indian Higher Education Consortium) 2013, Student of the Year at OLC, a National Science Foundation (NSF) Tiospaye and All Nationals AMP Scholar and a NASA Space Grant Recipient. He has also earned the American Indian Entrepreneurial Scholarship and has completed an NSF Quality Education for Minorities internship last summer.
He has also served as chapter president of the American Indian Business Leaders at OLC, American Indian Science & Engineering Society, Music Center Activities Club and Institute of Industrial Engineers [South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, press release, 2015.07.10].
We’ve discussed concerns that Mayor Allender might not work on white-tribal relations in Rapid City. Yet Mayor Allender personally approved Chief Jegeris’s proposal, in a town where Indians like Vargas make up 12% of the population but 59% of arrests. Vargas will likely get right to work, since the racially charged trial of Trace O’Connell starts week after next.