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From stay-at-home mom to sheriff: Sarah Warner heads Hettinger County’s only law enforcement office

Press Photo by Katherine Grandstrand Hettinger County Sheriff Sarah Warner sits at her desk at the Hettinger County Courthouse in Mott on Feb. 28. Warner was a stay-at-home mom for the first 10 years she lived in Mott, and took a job as an administrative assistant in the sheriff's office in 2006. It wasn't long before she was asked to be a deputy, and then was appointed and elected sheriff in 2010.

Sarah Warner has lived all over the Midwest.

Her father was a pastor, so she was born in North Dakota, moved to South Dakota and then Nebraska during her childhood.

She later moved to Chicago with her husband, Corey, after they married so he could finish school, and eventually settled in Mott when Corey took up post at the Zoar Congregational Church.

She spent her first 10 years in Mott as a stay-at-home pastor’s wife, raising James, who is now 18, and later Alora, now 13.

In 2006, she was hired as the administrative assistant in the Hettinger County Sheriff’s Office.

“By about March, the sheriff had asked if I would want to become a deputy,” Sarah said.

Sarah began training at the academy in Bismarck, graduating in 2007 with its 100th class.

By 2010, the previous sheriff stepped down and Sarah was first appointed, and then elected, sheriff of Hettinger County.

“I remember taking a field trip one time in grade school and thinking it was kind of a cool idea, but I never really thought that I would” end up in law enforcement, Sarah said.

Corey hasn’t really thought much about his wife being the county’s sheriff.

“The way things progressed with her in the department, it was just a natural step for her to do that,” Corey said. “She was the one that had the most experience at the time.”

Since becoming sheriff, Sarah has been working to update technology and vehicles used by the department.

The Hettinger County Sheriff’s Office has been using old Ford Crown Victoria’s the North Dakota Highway Patrol used to drive.

“You never know when they’re going to break down and they have high mileage on them.”

She’s been able to get new SUVs for all patrol vehicles, moving away from the rear-wheel drive cars that had a tendency to get stuck on snow-covered roads.

The small department has faced a lot of turnaround as young recruits use the county with a population of around 2,500 as a stepping stone in their law enforcement careers.

“Sometimes the public doesn’t understand why we have such a turnover,” Sarah said. “But I can’t criticize the deputies that come here and want to better themselves.”

Hettinger County and, more specifically, its most western-most city, New England, have grown in the past few years along with the rest of western North Dakota.

In some counties, sheriff is more of an administrative role. But for Sarah, she does a little bit of everything.

“We do not have a secretary,” she said. “I am the secretary and the sheriff, and I do take calls — I’m on backup if someone needs me at night.”

One of Corey’s biggest worries is Sarah responding to domestic violence calls as they seem to be the most violent crimes in the county.

“The hardest part right now with Hettinger County is we are right on that edge of oil, but we aren’t getting any of the — we have the impact but we don’t have the production,” Sarah said.

There really isn’t a lot of new crime in Hettinger County, but there is more of the same, Sarah said.

“Domestics, we’ve seen. Drug activity, we’ve seen come in,” Sarah said.

There was a bank robbery in New England about a year ago and recently two gas stations were broken into there. The crimes are still under investigation.

In 2010, the Hettinger County Sheriff’s Office had about seven arrests, Sarah said. In 2013 there were around 60 — a 750 percent increase, or about one arrest a week more than in 2010.

“The communities, they don’t see the day-to-day things that we see,” Sarah said.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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