In January 2006 Sergeant Bill Black of the Minneapolis Police Department addressed the Community Crime Prevention Initiative. Sergeant Blake is organizing the first Native American Law Enforcement Summit to deal with the growing problems of crime and gang activity among Native Americans in Minnesota cities and reservations. Below is an article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune about Sergeant Blake and his efforts.

A daughter's plea `to do more'

A violent death in the family fueled a Minneapolis sergeant's efforts to improve Indian law enforcement.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

September 19, 2005


By David Chanen, Staff Writer

Bill Blake, a Minneapolis police sergeant who is a member of the Red Lake Nation, took an early interest in preventing violence among Indians, and then he began giving presentations to officers and students across the Midwest about gang problems that cut across all races.

Then came that Tuesday in February 2003. His eldest daughter, Erica Rae Blake, a 20-year-old college student studying to become a social worker, was at a house party on a reservation in Wisconsin. As she came down the stairs, a teenager shot her in the head with a gun he didn't know was loaded. Gang members lived in the house, but the shooting was ruled an accident and the man with the gun got a year in jail, according to court documents.

For about the past year, Blake has worked on a project to honor his daughter's memory: Minnesota's first Native American Law Enforcement Summit. The two-day conference, starting Tuesday in Hinckley, will provide training for 125 law enforcers and lawyers on issues ranging from Indian prison gangs to substance abuse. The overriding goal is to improve relationships between tribal and non-tribal officers and slow down the crime that cycles between urban and reservation populations.

"Native American law enforcement can better serve the communities in which they work by having a better exchange of information about who is committing crimes," said U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger, who will speak at the summit. "The only way to effectively reduce crime is to coordinate this effort."

Blake, 41, had to see through some dark days before he could even contemplate that Heffelfinger and other top officials would be weighing in about the importance of his fledgling idea. While he received backing from Chief Bill McManus, Blake said some officers accused him of only doing the summit for a promotion. Tribal officers told him they should be planning such an event, not a city cop. "One officer was afraid we'd put our families at risk because people in the community would be angry," Blake said. "Doing nothing will get your family killed. To not address the situation is irresponsible."

He went to Bill Means, a longtime Indian activist, who welcomed the summit and sees it as a chance to solve criminal problems involving the Little Earth housing complex in south Minneapolis. Means and Little Earth residents had been concerned about American Indians committing crimes in Minneapolis and hiding out on reservations or taking their criminal activities to the reservations.

Blake said he hopes to set up a website at his department for all law enforcement with information about American Indian gang members, crime alerts and contacts that help tribal officers find the right officer in the Twin Cities to track a suspect or get information. Sgt. Herb Fineday of the Fond du Lac Tribal Police Department near Cloquet would welcome such a tool.

"In the past, you may discover through investigation that a suspect or witness fled to Minneapolis or St. Paul. It may take a series of calls before you find that person three or four days later," he said.

The summit "is great for tribal law enforcement, who don't get a lot of [training] opportunities like this because of lack of resources," said Bernard Zapor, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Minnesota.

`Able to help'

The way the summit has fallen into place makes Blake believe Erica Rae must have been helping him, he said. "She wanted to work with Indian kids in crisis," he said. "Even though she's not here, she will be able to help people." The stories about his first-born child flow easily. There was the drive back from Fond du Lac Community College with his daughter in 1999. Blake had given his presentation and they talked about the emergence of drugs, violence and gangs on reservations.

`You know, Dad, you have to do more,'-" Blake said she told him. "I thought I was already doing enough being a parent, cop and presenter." While he worked nights, Erica Rae went to live with his parents in Sheyenne, N.D. In high school, she became a cheerleader and was on the varsity volleyball and track teams. It wouldn't be too long before she made Blake a grandfather to Isaiah.

She went to live with her mother on the St. Croix Indian Reservation, where she attended college. Blake's brother had to deliver the news of her accidental death.

The officer found it hard to ignore the swirling rumors: Maybe his daughter was actually targeted because she was a cop's daughter. Gang members lived in the house, but Erica Rae had known some of them since childhood, he said. He had Minneapolis homicide investigators review her case, and they also determined her death was an accident. Isaiah, "who is a good boy," is going to hear a lot about the mother he had for only six months, Blake said. Erica Rae would go to the health club with him and could bench 150 pounds, and she favored music by the Dixie Chicks, Garbage and Sheryl Crow, he said.

Blake misses the runs around Como Lake and her outgoing, sometimes rebellious personality.

"Erica is my passion and drive," he said. "I miss her terribly."

David Chanen is at dchanen@startribune.com.