Bringing law enforcement together
By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer
On June 2, Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley joined state and local officials in Watford City to kick off the construction of a new, multi-agency law enforcement center. When completed, the McKenzie County Combined Law Enforcement Center will include room for 129 inmates and office space for several law enforcement agencies, including the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office, the Watford City Police Department, and the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).
“I have to compliment the authenticity of bringing dirt from the actual site here (ceremony held at the McKenzie County Jail parking area). That is just how McKenzie County is. And with 14 years of law enforcement experience, I feel right at home,” said Wrigley, who previously served as North Dakota’s U.S. Attorney and top federal law enforcement officer. “Our local and state law enforcement agencies know how important it is to work together so that North Dakota remains one of the safest states in the nation. This new center will bring several law enforcement agencies together under one roof and it serves as another clear example of our ongoing commitment to meeting the needs associated with strong economic growth.”
There has been an extensive collaborative effort between several different entities including the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office, the Watford City Police Department, the McKenzie County Board of County Commissioners, the City of Watford City, ICON Architecture, Construction Engineers, and cooperation from the state level in the initiation and pursuit of a new law enforcement center. With the continued population growth and development over the last four to five years in the Bakken, also comes a growth in other areas - an increase in crime, an increase in the need for additional law enforcement manpower, and an increase in the need for a building to hold the sheer volume of inmates in McKenzie County.
“Heidi Brenna from ICON Architecture coordinated for Chief Art Walgren and I to embark on a whirlwind tour of several Correction Centers and Law Enforcement facilities throughout the state, and together we were able to bring back several DOs and DON’Ts for a facility of this size,” said McKenzie County Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger. “We learned a lot about how a combined Law Enforcement Center should properly function and flow, and what style of jail was needed for a safe and secure facility that will be as proficient as possible. There has been a collaborative effort between all to ensure the long-term safety and security of the people of McKenzie County.”
After several design reviews with ICON Architecture, city and county officials were able to refine the plans for the new Law Enforcement Center and get the bids out to contractors. The McKenzie County Combined Law Enforcement Center is expected to be completed in the spring of 2017 at a cost of about $57 million. McKenzie County Auditor Linda Svihovec said county officials are pursuing a low-interest loan from the Bank of North Dakota to finance the center’s construction, which would free up county revenues for other projects.
“This project just shows the spirit of cooperation on all levels,” said Watford City Police Chief Art Walgren. “This is obviously a very important facility for McKenzie County, and I have to give a lot of credit to the county commissioners. This team of multiple law enforcement agencies will all be housed together to collaborate in order to fight crime together, which is a common goal we all share.”
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who also attended the historical ground-breaking ceremony, shared with the audience his anticipation and excitement of the new Law Enforcement Center and incorporated a personal piece of family history that started right here in McKenzie County over 100 years ago.
“My ancestors came here about 120 years ago, to McKenzie County,” stated Stenehjem. “As we are breaking ground today on a new Law Enforcement Center, my ancestors broke the virgin ground then, of the prairie. It’s really remarkable with what is happening here. The last time I was in Watford City at the healthcare system’s ground-breaking, I was on the phone with my wife, and I said to her ‘I’m in Watford City and I’m lost.’ Furthermore, I told her this time ‘I’m in Watford City, I’m lost, AND I’m in a traffic jam!’ We’re all very happy about the development and the economy here.”
And as is with anything good, adds Stenehjem, come the people not only seeking the good, but the people who aren’t seeking the good, which is why McKenzie County needs a new law enforcement center.
“This is another monumental day for Watford City,” said Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford. “Just a few years ago, we had an expansion of the jail which resulted in about 10 beds. Today, we need 129 beds. Hats off to the county commission to get this key piece of community infrastructure built. It took a lot of vision and collaboration, and it is going to happen. It will make life easier for our law enforcement personnel, judges, and State’s Attorney’s Office.”
The state is also supporting western North Dakota law enforcement agencies in many other ways. Since 2011, the state has provided nearly $10 million in Energy Impact Grant funds solely for local law enforcement agencies in North Dakota’s oil and gas region. The grants have supported many law enforcement enhancements, including the hiring of additional sheriff deputies and city police officers, new patrol vehicles, and other essential equipment upgrades, officer training, and housing allowances. The state will provide another $10 million in Energy Impact Grant funds to further support local law enforcement agencies during the 2015-2017 biennium. Gov. Jack Dalrymple and the Legislature have also supported major increases in the state’s number of Highway Patrol troopers, BCI agents, and parole and probation officers.
“I look forward to working in close proximity with the Watford City Police Department, the North Dakota Highway Patrol, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Parole and Probation, and all other Law Enforcement agencies that work in this county,” stated Schwartzenberger. “I truly see a great Law Enforcement Team being built here and look forward to working with them all. Unifying law enforcement agencies together in one building shows the citizens of McKenzie County our commitment to ensuring a safe and secure county to raise your families in.”
Some of those who joined Wrigley in celebrating the center’s construction included Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, North Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Michael Gerhart, McKenzie County Commission Chairman Richard Cayko, Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford, McKenzie County Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger, and Watford City Police Chief Art Walgren.