Administrative law enforcement staff from all across North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana convened for the second annual Law Enforcement Administrative Support (LEAS) conference this week to collaborate on how to better serve the community and support police officers in their departments.

Hosted by the Bowman Police Department, the two-day conference took place Wednesday and Thursday at the Four Seasons Pavilion in Bowman. Melinda Padilla Lynch, an administrative assistant for the Bowman Police Department, created the LEAS conference in 2020 when she was frustrated by the lack of training resources for people who work in administrative roles at law enforcement agencies.

“I approached my chief of police and I just said, ‘Hey, there’s no training for admins anywhere in the four-state area.’ ...And he just ran with it,” Padilla Lynch said. “It was actually pretty remarkable how all this came together. I just started calling to different departments and they all said, ‘Yes we need that.’”

Padilla Lynch said she made a point to include a variety of law enforcement entities to exchange ideas.

“One of the things I was really passionate about was that we went across departments, we integrated departments in a sense that we don’t separate by sheriff, police or highway patrol. I think we learned something from being able to really find out what other people do in their positions,” she said.

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Padilla Lynch said she feels the needs of administrative personnel in law enforcement have gone unnoticed by state and federal legislators and she hopes to raise awareness about that.

Attendees at the 2021 LEAS conference talk amongst each other during a breakout session. (contributed / Nicole Wandler)
Attendees at the 2021 LEAS conference talk amongst each other during a breakout session. (contributed / Nicole Wandler)

“I felt like as administrative assistants in law enforcement that we’ve slipped through the cracks in so many ways… not only with training, but just having a voice. And we also slip through the cracks with funding. There is no funding at the state or federal level for civilians in law enforcement,” Padilla Lynch said. “So we’re hoping to change that. Just because our burden, our trauma and our training needs are a little different, we still need to have a voice and we need to be able to take a piece of that pie.”

A wide range of topics were covered, including personal and career development, goal setting and leadership. Speakers also discussed human trafficking and illegal labor practices.

“After lunch, we shifted to culture collaboration. We learned about the (Native American) boarding schools. Then we learned about refugees and new Americans over in the Fargo area,” Padilla Lynch said.

One of the conference speakers was North Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Jenna Clawson Huibregtse, the department’s cultural liaison officer. She discussed her experience working to improve relations between law enforcement and American Indian tribes.

“A lot of people figured after the pipeline protests that maybe law enforcement would have no relationship with Standing Rock or with tribal nations in general, when in fact the total opposite is true,” Clawson Huibregtse said. “We have a great relationship and interact with each other all the time.”

She said they brokered a jurisdiction agreement with the MHA Nation and several other tribes to collaborate on matters of law enforcement. MHA, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes, is an alliance of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara peoples. It is based in northwestern North Dakota on the Fort Berthold Reservation, which is approximately 1 million acres.

“Prior to the agreement, if I were there and got into a pursuit with somebody that ended on tribal lands, if that person’s a tribal member I don’t have any jurisdiction to detain them or use any force if I had to. I’m considered a civilian in a court of law,” Clawson Huibregtse said. “Now that we have an agreement signed, we have agreed that a state trooper can detain someone. If we have to use force we are covered liability wise to be able to do that."

The Standing Rock Reservation even invited the North Dakota Highway Patrol to its Pow Wow two months ago.

“... My colonel superintendent of the highway patrol and a few of us were down there, and they honored us,” she said. “That’s what our relationship with Standing Rock actually looks like.”

A silent auction was also held to raise money to help staff in smaller and more remote departments with the funding to make it to the LEAS conference in 2022.