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Increased calls for service highlighted by SWND sheriff’s offices

Two southwestern North Dakota sheriff's offices provide stats on the criminal trends and major law enforcement actions in Richardton, Taylor and New England.

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Hettinger County Sheriff’s Office witnessed an uptick in 2020 for assaults. In New England, the number of assaults tripled and the department made 17 arrests. (Photo by M.C. Amick / The Dickinson Press)

In some counties where urban areas lack a police department, the sheriff may act as the principal police force with jurisdiction over all of the county's municipalities. For some of the smaller communities in Stark and Hettinger counties, this is the case.

Speaking with both sheriff’s offices, it appears that 2020 was a busy year.

In Taylor, a town of 166 residents there were 234 calls for service responded to by the Stark County Sheriff’s Office, while in Richardton, a town of 557, the department received 300 calls.

Stark County Sheriff Corey Lee said calls for service ran the gamut of typical law enforcement calls, including calls related to school incidents, traffic stops, paper services, domestic related issues and more.

Lee said traffic stops were among the most prevalent in 2020, but confirmed that there was an uptick in property crime and drug related crimes.

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“Drugs and thefts often go together hand-in-hand, we saw an uptick in those crimes...we had quite a high rate of fatality accidents in the county this year compared to the last few,” said Lee.

While Richardton-Taylor accounted for only three of those accidents, both municipalities remain concerted effort areas for the sheriff’s office as part of the statewide Vision Zero project, a strategy aimed at eliminating motor vehicle crash fatalities and serious injuries.

March through May took a toll on everyone’s mental health, the people of Stark County were no exception. Although Lee did not provide a specific number of related calls, he did confirm that quite a few mental health related calls were received by residents in the area, however most of those calls stemmed from Dickinson, and not Richardton-Taylor.

“We handle [the] mental health transports, and it looks like we had a pretty good amount in a time frame,” said Lee.

As to whether or not the stresses of COVID-19 were a factor, Lee said it was quite possible.

In New England, a town of 608, things were a bit different.

Chief Deputy Kyle Christenson said the crime rate remained relatively the same in 2020 as in previous years.

“Criminal investigations, non-criminal complaints, domestics, drug/alcohol-related incidents, vehicle crashes and juvenile incidents all remained approximately the same between 2019 [and] 2020. Instead of any one crime type having a significant increase, we saw a rise of all call types in general,” wrote Christenson.

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Despite the crime rate remaining steady, calls for service doubled in 2020 from 368 in 2019 to a 622. According to Christenson, the number of 911 calls decreased from 82 in 2019, to 64 in 2020 — signifying that many callers were reaching out directly to the sheriff’s office and forgoing the use of 911.

Hettinger County Sheriff’s Office witnessed an uptick in 2020 for assaults.

In New England, the number tripled to six reported assaults in 2020 compared from two in 2019, and 17 arrests were made in 2020 — nearly tripling 2019’s number of six.

Both agencies reported adequate response times on calls for service, ranging from one or two minutes in most instances to a few cases hovering near the 45 minutes mark. Both agencies attributed the quick response times and occasional delays to whether or not a deputy was in the affected area at the time the call was received.

As the pandemic gripped counties, many unprepared for the supply shortages that ensued, the Hettinger County Sheriff’s office reported that in New England they were ready.

According to Christenson, after 9/11, a previous sheriff equipped the department with disaster preparedness kits. These kits remained unused in a storage room for nearly 20 years, until the pandemic dusted off the boxes and saw a timely response in a critical time.

Christensen said the personal protective equipment contained in each of the kits came in handy during the height of the pandemic, when a reserve of gloves that have been repurposed for the protection of officers provided much needed relief for the first responders.

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