Narcotics task force shrinks, gets stronger

To condense means to make things smaller or stronger. In the case of the South Sakakawea Narcotics Task Force, both definitions are appropriate. A restructuring of the task force in January led to two trained officers joining the local team and m...

To condense means to make things smaller or stronger.

In the case of the South Sakakawea Narcotics Task Force, both definitions are appropriate.

A restructuring of the task force in January led to two trained officers joining the local team and more recently, a few entities dropped out to form their own task force.

There's every indication, though, cooperation is key to the state task forces.

"Anytime you can get state, local and even federal officers into task forces, working together, and tying those task forces into a statewide network exchanging information, I think you're a lot better off," North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation Director Jerald Kemmet said.


Kemmet said drug peddlers don't have jurisdiction lines and the task forces make it so law enforcement doesn't either.

Local law enforcement emphatically agrees.

"Drug dealers get around, so I foresee the continuing of task forces across the state," Dickinson Police Chief Chuck Rummel said. "For North Dakota, that seems to be the best method."

The locals agree so much, they contributed their own men to the cause.

Beefing up

The Dickinson Police Department and Stark County Sheriff's Department joined the SSNTF in 1992. Rummel said prior to this year, when an officer from each department was assigned to the task force, the SSNTF supervisor hired people directly.

"They would hire people looking to get into that kind of law enforcement. Now, it's our department members that get assigned to it," Rummel said.

Rummel said initially, the officers were entities of the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation."We felt we were not doing a good enough job of addressing the issue," Rummel said. "We were approached by BCI, and it was either (work with them) or get a full-time investigator."


Both entities opted to begin working with the task force. By 2000, there was more than enough work for one BCI agent, so another was brought on board.

By 2006, it was time to add trained officers of its own to the task force.

"It's just a huge benefit to the task force and to the community to have seasoned officers assigned," Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy said. "They don't need to be monitored as stringently."

In January, the city chief and the county sheriff approached their respective commissions to ask for half of an officer's salary to contribute to putting two officers on the SSNTF. At that time, Todd Ehreshmann from the sheriff's department and Tom Grosz from the police department were selected to join the task force.

Tuhy said it'd be nice to further beef up the department.

"It'd be nice to expand the task force so we can work in areas heavier than we are, but with our manpower, we can't do it," Tuhy said. "For now, it'd be nice to have an additional one or two people (on the task force) because the work is there."

Splitting up

There are nine task forces throughout the state, including a federal agency in Fargo. The South Sakakawea Narcotics Task Force was comprised of 13 entities.


This spring, four dropped out to form their own task force - the Mercer-McLean Narcotics Task Force.

The sheriff's departments in McLean and Mercer counties and the police departments in Beulah and Hazen, who were some of the initial members of the SSNTF, opted to form their own task force.

The remaining entities include the Dickinson Police Department, the Stark County Sheriff's Office, Center Police Department, Oliver County Sheriff's Office, Dunn County Sheriff's Office, Killdeer Police Department, Grant County Sheriff's Office, Sheridan County Sheriff's Office and BCI.

Tuhy said the task forces would still work as a team whenever possible.

"Any agency, if they call for help, we'll respond and so will the task force. It goes back to team work," Tuhy said.

With the split, there are two main offices for SSNTF, one in Dickinson and one in Center.

Staying afloat

The task forces are funded through a federal Byrne grant.


Kemmet said the grants are awarded to every state, but the dollar amount is based on a formula that takes into consideration the population, amount of violent crime and other factors.

"The Byrne grant was established in 1988, so it's actually, as far as federal programs, a pretty long-lived program," Kemmet said. "They traditionally run seven to eight years, so it's been in existence awhile."

Kemmet said recently it's been more difficult to get the funds.

"Every year for the last six years, there has been zero in the presidential budget, but it's always been restored back in the (U.S.) Legislature," Kemmet said. "We've had some fights to reinstate it, but so far we've been successful."

However, the amount is shrinking. Kemmet said at one point, North Dakota received more than $3 million, but in 2007 the amount dropped to just more than $1 million.

That means local entities are making up more of the costs. The matching grants require local entities to make a 35 percent contribution to the task forces.

"Ours (contribution) has been very, very reasonable over the years," Rummel said. "We get a lot of bang for our buck."

He said two years ago, the office matched with $20,000.


The money through the state Legislature is coming out of the lottery funds and results in approximately $840,000 per biennium.

"That grant is drying out; we're having a larger share put on entities," Tuhy said. "We need to keep the task force going. It's just a necessity. It helps local law enforcement. It's an asset to the community and if we can expand on that, great."

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