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From DAPL to Dickinson: Widespread law enforcement response “pretty incredible”

A police line moves south along North Dakota Hwy. 1806 on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, north of Cannon Ball. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Editor’s Note: All law enforcement personnel are anonymous in this report to protect their identities in the wake of threats against some individuals as a result of their work during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. The Press talked to three Dickinson Police Department officers and Stark County Sheriff’s Office deputies who helped at the protest site. They will be referred to as Officer 1, Deputy 1 and Deputy 2. They served for weeklong intervals multiple times from late fall through the winter. This is part two of two stories on the Dickinson area’s involvement at the protest.

Many North Dakota law enforcement officials had never dealt with anything near the magnitude of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest.

But members of the Dickinson Police Department and Stark County Sheriff’s Office volunteered because they understood their fellow officers needed their help.

“From a personal side, it was very much something to go down and to lend a hand to our profession and try to give some breathing room for the officers who had been down there for quite some time and the agencies that had already been involved for quite some time,” said Officer 1 of the Dickinson Police Department.

Deputy 2 of the Stark County Sheriff’s Office said there was some initial hesitation in the Sheriff’s Office, probably because of the size of the protest. He decided to volunteer because of his work on the Southwest Tactical team, a multi-jurisdictional team composed of officers from the Dickinson Police Department and other surrounding agencies. He thought this would give him the experience to help fellow officers already at the protest.

Deputy 1 of the Stark County Sheriff’s Office cited the brotherhood within the law enforcement community and the importance of helping other departments in need. If in the future something big hit southwest North Dakota, other agencies would surely come to their aid, the deputy said.

When officers reached the protest site, they realized the full extent of the assistance effort. People came from across the nation to help secure the protest, and keep protesters and police safe.

“It’s pretty incredible to see so many agencies come and respond to that call of help,” Deputy 1 said. “It really makes you proud to be in this profession when you see so many people willing to come from so far. I went one county over; they came from states to help an agency out. … It really gives you a sense of pride in the law enforcement community that we work in and know that, no matter what, it’s nationwide; we have each other’s back and are willing to answer that call for help when it’s needed.”

While members of the Dickinson and Stark County departments helped at the protest, other officers and deputies had to step up at home to cover shifts, often pulling overtime hours to assist in securing the protest both at home and at DAPL. Despite the workload, there was no loss of morale within the departments.

Deputy 1 said they sometimes worked nine to 12 days in a row before getting a couple of days off, and then going right back at it.

“If it was my week back home, I was OK picking up an extra shift and helping out because I knew the guy that was gone was down there helping out where he was needed,” he said. “… It got long, but most of us knew what we were volunteering for. We were glad to do it to help somebody out, another agency.”

Officer 1 said Dickinson remained the focus of the Dickinson Police Department, ensuring the safety of those back home before sending officers to the protest. The administration was conscious of the area’s needs and made its decisions with that priority.  

Handling threats  

Deputy 1 said he did not receive any direct threats as a result of his involvement at the DAPL protests, something other officers and deputies in Morton and Burleigh County faced. He said officers were warned to be careful and to alert their families to be mindful of any suspicious vehicles and to be cautious on social media. His daycare provider was instructed to keep the doors locked at all times.

Deputy 2 said though he was never afraid at the protest site, he was more wary when he returned home where his patrol car sat in his driveway and he no longer had an army standing beside him.

The lessons from the experience were valuable. Officer 1 said one of his greatest takeaways was the importance of putting officers’ safety first and foremost. At the end of the day, all officers take off their badges and go home to their families.

Having worked in a state where large-scale protests are uncommon, local officers also learned different tactics for handling such situations.

“Hopefully, we don’t ever have to deal with something like that in North Dakota or Stark County or any of our counties around here like that again, but, I mean, there’s definitely the experience there that I took back that absolutely you can’t get anywhere else, you know?” Deputy 1 said. “It’s unfortunate we had to do it, but, I mean, it is good experience in how to deal with those situations and the use of manpower and the type of resources you need. There was a lot of learning definitely from just being there and helping out.”

Officer 1 said he also felt the support from the local community behind his efforts at the protest.

“As a whole, I think North Dakota officers feel pretty good about the state that they work in with the people that they’re serving,” Officer 1 said. “I think that we have a majority of people here in our community locally and throughout the state that are supportive of the job that the officers were trying to accomplish and trying to do.”