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Serving Dickinson: Police chief reflects on challenges posed by oil boom

Dustin Dassinger has been police chief in Dickinson since 2011. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)

Dickinson Police Chief Dustin Dassinger took over the department in 2011, just as the oil boom was beginning to take off. The boom created challenges for the department, but Dassinger said he is proud to work with the officers he serves with every day.

He said he was always interested in law enforcement because he had family members in law enforcement when he was growing.

"That kind of spurred my interest in law enforcement," Dassinger said.

After graduating from high school, the South Heart native attended Dickinson State University, where he earned a bachelor's degree. He then went on to attend the University of North Dakota-Lake Region, now known as Lake Region State College, where he earned a certificate in law enforcement.

Dassinger's first law enforcement job was working a summer in Medora.

"It was interesting," he said. "It was fun working in a tourist community. It's a different aspect of law enforcement, but I enjoyed it."

After finishing his summer in Medora, Dassinger took a job in Williston, where he worked for 13 months until a job opened in October 1999 with the Dickinson Police Department.

"Dickinson's a very nice community and it was nice coming back," he said. "There were a lot of the people I knew and there's something about serving a community that you kind of bond with. You know what's expected of you as a law enforcement officer and you know what the community stands for."

Capt. David Wilkie was hired a few months before Dassinger in 1999 and took Dassinger on his first day of work.

"He rode with me on the first day and he wasn't even in his uniform," Wilkie said.

Wilkie said they took a call about a teenager who had died in a garage, possibly of a drug overdose.

"I just turned to him and said, 'Welcome to Dickinson,' " Wilkie said.

Dassinger became chief of police in 2011, just as the North Dakota oil boom was beginning to take off. He said the oil boom posed various challenges to the department. The city's population grew, along with the area the department had to cover. Space was tight at the time because police were working out of the Law Enforcement Center, a building they shared with Stark County until 2014.

"Dickinson was right around 17,000 people when I took over as chief in 2011 and we grew rapidly," he said. "Within a couple years, we grew by about 10,000 people at our peak. So, we had to hire new staff on, we were outgrowing our existing space, the size of our community was growing, the area as far city limits was growing, so that proposed challenges for us with our communications system."

A growing community meant residents did not always know their neighbors like they used to, which created more police calls. There was an increase in aggravated assaults and bar fights, and drug-related calls were on the rise and continue to be one of the department's biggest problems.

"We had some changes and some growing pains that we had to go through," Dassinger said. "It was definitely fast-paced and we hit the ground running, but I enjoyed it. I still enjoy it. There's new challenges every day."

Wilkie said Dassinger made "good, sound decisions" during the oil boom by listening to people and responding well to advice.

"When this whole thing started, we were undermanned and underequipped," Wilkie said. "We've built up our fleet and built up our manpower and built up our equipment list. We've gone in the right direction."

The department moved across town in 2014 to the new Public Safety Center, which it shares with the Fire Department. Dassinger said he enjoys his relationship with Dickinson Fire Chief Bob Sivak.

"Being in the same building, we've developed a very strong bond with the Fire Department and I enjoy working with Chief Sivak on a daily basis," he said.

Outside of law enforcement, Dassinger enjoys working out, lifting weights and coaching youth sports, especially baseball.

"I enjoy watching my kids play sports and activities," he said. "That pretty much eats up a majority of my free time."

Dassinger said he is proud to work with his fellow officers every day.

"I'm very fortunate to have a very good team," he said. "We have excellent dispatchers, excellent patrol officers, excellent people in our investigative unit. So I enjoy coming to work every day and I feel very fortunate with the staff that I have to work with."

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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