MORTON, Minn. — The Lower Sioux Community Council has appointed Vince Merrick Sr. as a public safety director to lead and reshape community policing in the Lower Sioux Indian Community Police Department, according to a statement from the council.
According to the statement, Merrick, who has more than 30 years of tribal law enforcement experience, will oversee the 12-member department, which included a chief of police, assistant chief and eight licensed police officers.
“We have no greater responsibility than providing a safe Community for our members and guests, and our Police Department must play a central role in fulfilling that obligation,” Lower Sioux Community President Robert Larsen said in the statement. “Vince is committed to community policing, and his connection to this Community make him the right person to lead and reshape the department.”
Merrick will oversee the process of reorganizing the department to renew a commitment to protecting community members and guests, engaging with the community and preserving peace and protecting life and property.
Details of how the reorganization of the department will proceed have not been released publicly.
“Returning to Lower Sioux is like coming home to a Community that I consider to be family and a region that my family and I remember fondly,” Merrick said in the statement. “I have many personal and professional connections that I look forward to renewing. It’s good to be back.”
Response raises questions
The appointment of Merrick and the reorganization of the department comes less than a month after the disappearance and death of Quincy Schaffer, 21, in Morton and the concerns raised regarding the Lower Sioux Police Department's response.
After being reported missing Jan. 27, Schaffer was located deceased by community members Jan. 31 about 400 feet from where he reportedly disappeared.
While investigating the disappearance, the Lower Sioux Police Department was informed about an alleged attempted assault at a Lower Sioux Indian Community residence that caused Schaffer to flee the home, according to a news release. No individuals in the home required medical attention and the incident was not reported to law enforcement until the investigation of the disappearance began.
The Police Department released preliminary autopsy results that found hypothermia was a contributing factor in Schaffer's death.
Schaffer was found in a field next to the Jackson Junction Casino Hotel. An employee with the casino declined to answer a question about whether the Lower Sioux Police Department requested camera footage from the hotel near where Schaffer's body was found. The casino did not respond to a request for comment.
A Lower Sioux Government Center Facebook page post was made Jan. 31 about Schaffer's death and the community concerns about the investigation.
"We want to assure our Community that the details of their investigation from its onset will be reviewed and dealt with accordingly," part of the statement read.
The new leader of the Police Department began his law enforcement career in 1974, working for his tribe — the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska — for 14 years and becoming the captain of police. Merrick served another 14 years as an officer of the Bureau of Indian Affairs as chief of police at Standing Rock, Winnebago and Yankton Reservations. Merrick served as chief of police at Lower Sioux from 2002-2007, according to the statement.
“I’ve been a cop serving Indian Country my whole career. It’s in my blood,” said Merrick in the statement about his new appointment. “I’m eager to work with the Community and the Police Department to reshape our law enforcement efforts with a stronger commitment to community policing and community engagement, and a focus on meeting Community members’ needs and proactive crime prevention.”