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Hettinger County Sheriff lobbies council to support canine program

During the City of New England’s monthly meeting on April 4 Hettinger County Sheriff’s Deputy, Sgt. Kennedy Pippenger, lobbied the council for financial support to purchase and train a narcotics detection canine.

Sgt. Kennedy Pippenger
Hettinger County Sheriff's Sgt. Kennedy Pippenger addresses the New England City Council during a montly meeting on April 4.
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NEW ENGLAND, N.D. — The Hettinger County Sheriff's Office is seeking financial support from the New England City Council to purchase and train a narcotics detection canine. The necessity of the HCSO in having a canine was the subject of two presentations before the council, including one by a drug enforcement agent with the Southwest Narcotics Task Force who addressed rising number of illicit substances traveling into and out of the state.

The agent with the Southwest Narcotics Task Force said that the task force have planted tracking devices on vehicles belonging to drivers known or believed to be drug runners, colloquially referred to as “mules,” and then wait to stop the suspect until they return to the area.

“Obviously the best time to stop them is when they’re coming back with a full load. We have watched our track vehicles come through Hettinger County. And the only reason that we've not called them to assist with stopping this vehicle is because they do not have a drug dog,” the Task Force agent said, pointing to state laws that restrict the amount of time a traffic stop can be extended.

He said he’s not opposed to these statutes and doesn’t want to infringe on civil liberties, but explained it hinders the ability of sheriff’s deputies to enforce the law. Sgt. Kennedy Pippenger said they often have to wait more than an hour for canine assistance from Dunn or Stark County.

“It can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, even two hours. We've called Dunn County and they've been all the way north, we've had to wait an hour and a half for them to come down here. And like he said the cases don't hold up. Even if we were to find a huge substantial amount of drugs in there, that case is probably not going to hold up. We cannot keep people for very long because then it's then it's affecting their civil rights,” Pippenger said. “These dogs they have in other counties, they’re on shift too. So it’s not like if Hettinger County needs them, they’re right there. They’re only here if they can come down here.”

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She added many of the surrounding sheriff’s departments such as those in Slope, Adams and Grant Counties also lack canines so this would be beneficial to them as well.

Sheriff Sarah Warner said she has placed Pippenger in charge of efforts to prepare for Hettinger County to get its own drug dog.

“Kennedy’s put in a lot of work into researching a drug dog. She recently finished training for drug inspecting recognition and spent two weeks in a Bismarck classroom. Then she flew to Arizona and spent a week down there testing,” Warner said.

If and when funding is secured, Pippenger said she will attend a six week training course in Pennsylvania with the new dog. As the agent previously explained , marijuana is no longer a high priority for law enforcement so Pippenger said the dog will not be trained to detect it. The canine will serve other functions as well, such as tracking missing persons and locating fugitives from justice.

“The dog doesn’t only hit on narcotics, it can also track. So when you have somebody that goes missing, whether it be an elderly person or a child we can track that individual,” she said. “Or if we have another situation like we did last summer where somebody is running through a cornfield, it can also assist with that as well. We’re unfortunately seeing that more and more.”

She argued that the mere presence of a permanent drug dog could serve as a strong deterrent to anyone who might consider bringing drugs into the area and provide for public relations opportunities, such as presentations at New England Public School.

Mayor Marty Opdahl said he believes the council is duty-bound by the community to embrace this canine program.

“Going forward, it’s not going to get any better unless we start to take action on some of these things. And I think it will be very important that we be a participant in this,” Opdahl said.

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Pippenger said the initial cost to procure and train the dog is $40,000, with recurring annual cost of $10,000. Opdahl also pointed out that the dog could be useful in sniffing out contraband at the Dakota Women’s Correctional Rehab Center, the only female prison in North Dakota, which is located just a few blocks south of New England City Hall.

“Showing the county commissioners that the cities have an interest in supporting this idea will really go a long way to get the commissioners on board,” Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Kyle Christenson said. “Increasing the budget essentially, is what we would have to do to some degree, and they're a little hesitant on that without knowing there is that community support.”

Opdahl expressed his desire to commit $10,000 in startup funding for the initiative. But Councilmen Chris Fitterer and Lyle Kovar said they wanted to wait until they had more time to deliberate and more information about what other entities would be contributing. The council expressed unanimous verbal support, agreed the city would provide up to $10,000 for the first year and that the matter would be discussed further during their next meeting at 7 p.m. on May 2.

Jason O’Day is a University of Iowa graduate, with Bachelor’s Degrees in Journalism and Political Science. Before moving to Dickinson in September of 2021, he was a general news reporter at the Creston News Advertiser in southwest Iowa. He was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. With a passion for the outdoors and his Catholic faith, he’s loving life on the Western Edge. His reporting focuses on Stark County government and surrounding rural communities.
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