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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published September 26 2013

Land board agrees to fund 28 new law enforcement employees for western ND

BISMARCK – Western North Dakota counties will see 28 new law enforcement-related employees after the Board of University and School Lands approved $8.8 million in grants Thursday.

The approval contradicts the board’s earlier agreement that it would not fund personnel because the board is using one-time funding provided by the state Legislature and won’t be able to sustain a long-term position.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, a board member, said the local law enforcement offices made a compelling case to justify the recommendation.

“I don’t know how else we will deal with this,” he told the board. “If we are going to handle the crimes in the Oil Patch, we have to get cops and vehicles out on the road.”

Law enforcement agencies have struggled to keep up as the population and traffic volume have ballooned with the oil boom.

The grant money comes from two different allocations from the Legislature to address crime in the Oil Patch. The land board was given $7 million to allocate to sheriff’s offices from the state’s Oil and Gas Impact Grant Fund. The board spent $4.8 million Thursday. Stenehjem’s office was given $9.6 million – $4 million of which was allocated Thursday – from the Strategic Investment and Improvements Fund with grants given out through the Drug and Violent Crime Policy Board.

The board previously awarded $1.4 million in July for law enforcement needs.

After Thursday’s allocation, $6.4 million is still available for another grant round.

The grants include funding for additional equipment and supplies for 31 law enforcement agencies, 61 vehicles, housing assistance for 28 personnel in seven agencies, overtime for 15 agencies and law enforcement training.

Of the 28 new positions, 27 are in oil-producing counties and one is in Morton County, which includes Mandan.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, chairman of the land board, said the board should follow the recommendations for more personnel given to it by a committee under the attorney general’s office.

“Even though we know these are one-time funds and we don’t know how those positions are going to get funded in the future, the whole concept of the impact fund is the quick response to the need, and that comes ahead of anything else,” he told the board. “We have to do it, because we are being told that is where the need lies.”

Of the recommendations for 16 counties, McKenzie County was given the most with $1.09 million for housing allowances, three new deputies, equipment and ammunition. Williams County received $1.06 million to fund 15 fully equipped vehicles and equipment, and Mountrail County will receive $596,000 for three deputies, three vehicles and equipment.

From the attorney general’s pool, which included 28 recommendations, the Williston Police Department will receive the most with $608,000 for three patrolmen, three equipped vehicles, a used vehicle and equipment. The Tioga Police Department will receive $542,000 for three vehicles once three positions are filled, one officer and equipment.

Williams County Sheriff Scott Busching called it a “good start.”

“It’s very much appreciated. For the first time ever, I will be able to equip all of my patrol deputies with their own assigned vehicles,” he said in an interview, adding that there is usually a 45-minute gap where no deputies are out on patrol because deputies have to share vehicles.

He said the upgraded communications system will have a large impact in some of the very rural areas.

“We have always had poor reception in some parts of the county where we were never really concerned about people being there – that’s a different story now,” he said.

To receive the grants, each local entity had to commit 10 percent of the total costs – a requirement many were unhappy with. However, the local match was decreased from 25 percent.

Busching said he was unhappy with the local share requirement, but felt it was a compromise he was able to accept.

“This boom started a long time ago and this is the first state money of this magnitude, and we really have skin in the game,” he said.