Killdeer gets new police chief, plans

By Katherine KILLDEER -- Two months into his role as chief of police, Eric Braathen still has his work cut out for him. Braathen, who started Aug. 1, has hired a third officer and has interviews lined up for the fo...

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Press Photo by Katherine Lymn Killdeer Police Chief Eric Braathen discusses his new position as he patrols the city of Killdeer on Friday.

By Katherine Lymn
KILLDEER - Two months into his role as chief of police, Eric Braathen still has his work cut out for him.
Braathen, who started Aug. 1, has hired a third officer and has interviews lined up for the fourth and final open position. The Tolna native has also been at work writing grants, upgrading equipment and updating how the department is run.
With Dickinson to the south and Watford City to the northwest, Killdeer is a major passthrough for oilfield traffic. It sits on state Highway 22, a major oilfield thoroughfare, and serves as a home - however temporary - for many transient workers.
The department, which is currently made of Braathen and one other officer, fielded168 calls in all of 2010. This year it’s already answered 504. Braathen said he expects Killdeer to get much busier next year, and that now it’s right on the edge of the busiest oilfield activity.
The Dunn County Sheriff’s Office has helped respond to about a third of the calls while KPD has been understaffed, he said.
Based on what the city has approved presently for housing units, the city is estimated to grow to 4,200 people by 2019, Braathen said. The 2010 census recorded about 750 people.
Braathen takes pride in leading the department during a “pioneering” phase of its and western North Dakota’s history. He predicts the department could double its current size as the city continues to grow.
The police chief said a common complaint is one driver calling in another for reckless driving, like drivers passing semi-trucks when they shouldn’t be. Officer Scott Wilson said a lot of the calls he responds to are civil disputes - a couple moves in together and later one wants the other out, for example - an issue that may be more prevalent because of the housing shortage.
Adding to the department’s workload was the annexation last year of the Bi-Hutch trailer park and a local bar, both just south of Killdeer near the roundabout of Highways 200 and 22.
“That obviously ups our calls for the year,” Wilson said.
A third officer, former Burke County Sheriff Michael Cude, will start with the department this week, and interviews are lined up for the fourth and final open position.
Changes coming
At the Killdeer City Commission’s Sept. 15 meeting, when Braathen was formally sworn in by Mayor Chuck Muscha, the chief brought up his plans for a new evidence room. The commission approved getting cost estimates for building a secure room in an old water treatment plant.
“Right now we’ve just got a small little locker for our evidence and it’s getting pretty full,” Braathen said.
Braathen also plans to implement a four-on, four-off schedule once the department is fully staffed. This way, they’ll know far in advance when they have days off, which will be helpful for officers who want to visit their families.
Braathen was a sergeant with Nelson County on the eastern side of the state before coming to the heart of the Oil Patch. He felt Killdeer would be a “breath of fresh air,” said his wife, Hannah, a lab technician in Rolla.
“It’s really good timing and a good position for him to be the chief right now,” she said.
Before Nelson County, Braathen was chief of police in Hatton, from 2003-05, and prior to that he was with Devils Lake police.
He is renting a house the city owns in Killdeer, which he said was a factor in taking the job.
“I wasn’t gonna move to some mancamp or something like that,” he said.
Currently, Braathen visits Hannah when he’s able, between the paperwork he has to catch up on and finding recruits. He said he’s excited for next summer, when hopefully he and Hannah are together and he has a full staff.
With his leadership style, Braathen wants to avoid the turnover that has plagued Killdeer police - and most police departments in western North Dakota. Former Chief Chris Fenstermaker left his post in June for an oilfield job after serving with the department for five years.
“I’m hoping that once I get the staff that they’re gonna enjoy working with me and I won’t have the high turnover volume,” Braathen said.
Braathen put Wilson on the interviewing board for new officers, something he hopes gives him a sense of ownership over his position. Braathen also wants to adopt a Nelson County practice of giving officers specific responsibilities, like designating one for warrants.
“You wouldn’t just go out and patrol and go home …,” he said, “and that’s what I’d like to bring here.”
Lymn is a reporter for The Dickinson Press. Contact her at 701-456-1211.

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