ND Highway Patrol to add 15 troopers
The North Dakota Highway Patrol is in the process of hiring 15 new troopers to serve statewide and who should be ready for duty after Thanksgiving.
The additional positions were authorized by the state Legislature during the last session.
The increase could mean an extra trooper on each shift in the southwest corner of the state, Lt. Norman Ruud said from the southwest region office in Bismarck.
"It could be from five up to 10 or 11," Ruud said. "It just depends on holidays and vacations and things of that nature. Normally we have about five troopers per shift. Hopefully we're going to be able to get that up to six or seven with the additional troopers."
The additional trooper positions have yet to be assigned, Commander Lori Malafa said.
"We'll know once we get through all of the candidates and background investigations and finish up the testing," Malafa said. "We also let our current employees transfer so none of that has been done. It won't be done for a month or so yet."
The western half of the state has gained 15 sworn personnel since 2009, about the time the oil boom took off, according to data furnished by Malafa. The eastern half of the state, particularly the northeast region, has lost five sworn officers.
The Highway Patrol is responsible for state and federal highways within North Dakota's borders, Ruud said. In the southwest region served by the Dickinson office, that includes Interstate 94, Highway 22 and Highway 85, two of the Oil Patch's most traveled roads.
"Even though we're the state patrol, we do have the ability to patrol all public roadways whether they be city, county or state," Ruud said. "We do primarily focus on those major highways -- state highways, federal highways and U.S. highways. If there's a call for some type of call, whether it be on a county road within the city limits of Dickinson, if we're able to respond, we will respond."
Because there are about five troopers on each shift and they cover hundreds of miles of road, response times can be lengthy depending on the position of the trooper.
"A lot of it depends on the location of that specific officer," Ruud said. "If we've got an officer assigned west of Dickinson and a call comes in east of Dickinson, they're going to have to respond to that route. There are times where the response could be 30 minutes, there's other times when that response could be less than 5. It seems like no matter where you schedule someone, that call is 40 to 50 miles away and every once in a while, you get lucky. But we can't predict what's going to happen."
As more calls come in, it leaves less time for troopers to look for other accident-causing violations, Ruud said.
"They're not able to be proactive and looking for violations," Ruud said.
If drivers see a non-life-threatening violation on a road where the primary law enforcement provider is the Highway Patrol, they are advised to call the non-emergency number for North Dakota State Radio dispatch.
"North Dakota has a history of being fairly sparsely populated," said Cecily Fong, public information officer for the state Department of Emergency Services. "It was a way to provide 911 services affordably for some of those more rural, less populated counties.
State Radio was started in 1948 to help serve counties too small to support their own dispatch center, Fong said.
"By law, State Radio could not dispatch for Cass County because it has more population" than the 20,000 resident threshold set by the state legislature upon creation of the State Radio system.
Today, it serves as dispatch for law enforcement, ambulance and fire departments in 24 counties across the state, as well as serving as dispatch for the Highway Patrol, Fong said.
"North Dakota's one of the only states that does it," Fong said of State Radio.