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Associated Press, Published June 03 2013

Bismarck-area law enforcement hurting for officers

BISMARCK – Officials in the Bismarck and Mandan area say they are having difficulty finding and keeping law enforcement officers.

The two cities and their counties have formed a consortium where job candidates take the same test and are chosen for positions among Bismarck police, Mandan police, Burleigh County sheriff or Morton County sheriff.

What used to be a deep pool of candidates is shrinking.

“We’re not getting as many applicants as we used to,” Bismarck Police Deputy Chief Dave Draovitch said. “The quality of candidates is not as good.”

Bismarck Police Lt. Mike McMerty told the Bismarck Tribune that 15 years ago, there was one testing day per year and more than 100 people would show up. Now, the police department conducts interviews four times a year, and sometimes people don’t show up, he said.

The Mandan Police Department has been fully staffed for just one month since 2006.

“We are constantly taking applications,” Mandan Police Chief Dennis Bullinger said. “We don’t close that, because you always want a list to work off if you can.”

The law enforcement leaders cite several factors for the staffing shortage, including stress.

Morton County Sheriff Dave Shipman said the deaths of two officers in the line of duty in 2011 have “opened up a lot of eyes around here.” Bismarck Police Sgt. Steve Kenner was shot and killed responding to a domestic disturbance and Burleigh County Sheriff’s Deputy Bryan Sleeper died of a heart attack while assisting another officer with an arrest.

“I think our job has always been dangerous, but I think it’s more dangerous now,” Shipman said.

And there are plenty of other employment opportunities in oil-rich North Dakota.

Burleigh County Sheriff Pat Heinert said he is losing three, maybe four, officers to energy-related jobs offering salaries and benefits that can’t be matched by the law enforcement agencies.

“That’s hard to compete with,” Heinert said.