Dickinson at DAPL: Local officer, deputies discuss experience securing protest

Editor's Note: All law enforcement personnel are anonymous in this piece to protect their identities in the wake of the threats against some individuals as a result of their work during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. The Press talked to thr...

Hennepin County, Minn., deputies are supported by an armored car from Fargo on Oct. 27, 2016, at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest site on North Dakota Hwy. 1806 north of Cannon Ball. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Editor’s Note: All law enforcement personnel are anonymous in this piece to protect their identities in the wake of the 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 one of two stories on the Dickinson area’s involvement at the protest.


Representatives from the Dickinson Police Department and the Stark County Sheriff’s Office volunteered to help secure the Dakota Access Pipeline protest late fall through the winter.  

There they faced a variety of protesters - those who worked with the officers to keep the protest peaceful, and those who threatened the safety of the officers and their families. They witnessed rocks and Molotov cocktails being thrown in the direction of law enforcement. They pulled seven long days in a row to help their fellow officers and deputies in the Bismarck-Mandan area. And they stood on the frontlines of the protest as well as at the forefront of one of the biggest and most controversial issues North Dakota has seen, garnering immense attention nationally and internationally.

“There were some protesters who you would almost say were professional protesters,” said Deputy 2 of the Stark County Sheriff’s Office. “They knew what to say and knew what buttons to push. There were some that were very, very passionate and fanatical, you know, threatening to find out who I am and come to my house and kill or assault or even sexually assault my family members. And then on the other hand there were some that worked really well with us. They were mostly members of the tribe (who) would approach the lines and say, ‘Hey, we want this. Can you guys move here instead of there?’ They would work with us and help us move people back.”


While many local law enforcement officials had never handled a protest of this magnitude, they were surrounded by those who had more experience with these sorts of situations.

“There were certainly things that were done that a lot of us here in the area have maybe not been exposed to in our careers, and it was unique,” Officer 1 of the Dickinson Police Department said. “I mean, North Dakota has never had something I think to the extent that this was. … We had a lot of conversations. There was a lot of insight that was brought in from the outside from people who had dealt with this before.”

The side of the protesters was also heavily pushed through social media and media outlets, Officer 1 said. However, the officer saw support for law enforcement through social media as well. Overall, neither came as much of a surprise - law enforcement officers now tend to expect to be in the public eye both in their everyday duties and with more large-scale events, he said.

“The profession itself is in a time and an age that anytime you step outside the building into the community and things, you just automatically think that there’s a camera that is catching you somewhere, that somebody either is rolling a cell phone or video of some sorts,” Officer 1 said. “That’s helpful going into it, because you know it’s going to be even more so in a situation that was down there. We knew that there were drones down there with cameras they were flying all over.”

The days securing the protest were not routine. Sometimes there was a flurry of activity and other times things were pretty slow - the time of day did not seem to play much of a factor on the protesters, Officer 1 said.

Some protesters would notify law enforcement at times about events in advance, though this was not always the case.

“There were most definitely instances where officers feared for their safety, and I think a number of officers would probably tell you that there were instances that they may be in fear for their lives,” Officer 1 said. “It was very fortunate that we were able to get through that entire incident and there was enough restraint … that nobody was killed or lost their life, but I know there were instances where officers did fear for their safety, were worried about their safety.”

Deputy 1 of the Stark County Sheriff’s Office was at the site the day law enforcement pushed the north camp back to the Backwater Bridge. The day was grueling and tensions were high - there was always an unknown factor of what was going to happen. The officers did train in the days leading up to the push.


“I would say the atmosphere was generally positive among law enforcement, because we were there in support of each other and everybody’s glad to help each other out, but there’s that kind of hidden tension there,” Deputy 1 said. “Everybody knows that things could go wrong and people could get hurt. Fortunately, nobody did when we ended up pushing that camp. There was shots fired, but luckily we were able to handle that pretty quickly. Everybody made it through safely, but it was a long day.”

Deputy 2 said there were peaceful protesters - typically members of the tribe - whom officers could talk to about their concerns, such as spotting weapons in the crowd. The tribe member would then go ask the person to hand over the weapon or ask them to leave. A lot of them would approach the officers and pray for them, bless them or play a song on the drum or flute. Some worked well with the officers while others threw rocks, he said.

During his time at the protest, Deputy 2 said he never feared for his safety, despite the protesters outnumbering the police and other law enforcement agencies. Most of the police had pepper spray and a baton, or their sidearms at the very least.

“There’s a sense of security in each other knowing you’re all trained and you’re all professional,” Deputy 2 said. “There were always contingency plans in place too.”

While there was support for both the pipeline and those opposing it, the deputies said they received nothing but support and thanks from the people in the Mandan-Bismarck area. Deputy 1 said residents offered to buy their meals when they went out to eat or snacks at a gas station. More people approached him and thanked him for his service during his time at DAPL than in his entire career as a deputy.

“We never had such a welcoming place to stay when we were there. It didn’t matter if we went to a hotel or a gas station or out to eat, we were thanked for being there and helping from every other person we seen,” Deputy 1 said. “I mean, it was incredible being there and the people of Bismarck-Mandan area and Morton County and Burleigh County where we stayed, those communities were so welcoming and grateful when we were there. It was truly nice to be so appreciated when we were in their community.”

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