February 20, 2013

Outgrowing its space

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

Built in 1984, the McKenzie County Law Enforcement Complex has well outlived its use. The area’s growing population in combination with the complex’s aging and outdated technology, has created a ‘perfect storm’ of sorts that the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Department is looking forward to being out of.
According to McKenzie County Sheriff Ron Rankin, over the last two years the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Department has been dealing with increased call volume, traffic incidents and arrests, on top of shrinking work, office and jail space and dilapidated equipment. And they have had to hire more dispatch staff and deputies to handle the increased volume, but doing so has added to the number of bodies that occupy the complex.
“Things are incredibly crowded in here,” states Rankin. “We have five deputies that are having to share one office space that has only two computers. We also have three dispatchers in each shift now, and they have to share the same counter space that was once shared by two dispatchers.”
The original 1984 complex had 11 jail cells. However, plumbing issues have forced the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Department to reduce that number to nine usable cells.
“We have had the plumber out several times, and finally he told us he couldn’t fix it and we would have to order replacement parts, which are no longer available,” states Rankin.
Unfortunately, however, criminal arrests in McKenzie County have only increased since the boom.
“We don’t have the space to keep up,” states Rankin.
On top of that, Rankin states that an even bigger problem lies with the complex’s original 1984 security system, which is also in need of repair parts that are no longer being made or sold.
The outdated and partially working law enforcement complex technology has, according to Rankin, forced the department to perform extra steps in order to overcompensate for the complex’s aging systems.
“The camera systems are very old,” states Rankin. “They do not scan the entire area of the spaces they are in, and therefore, they leave a lot of blind spots. That is simply not acceptable in terms of security.”
Though the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Department has worked under these conditions for some time, that is all about to change.
According to Rankin, thanks to an impact grant from the state of North Dakota, and money set aside in the 2013 McKenzie County budget, the McKenzie County Law Enforcement Center is about to go through extensive remodeling.
“The project just went to bid, so construction could start at any time,” states Rankin.
Once completed, the law enforcement center will regain use of all 11 jail cells, as well as have the use of a new and up-to-date camera, intercom and lock system, dispatch radios, 911 location system, an increased dispatch work space and additional storage and office space for the department and its deputies.
“It’s going to be great,” states Rankin. “The only hassle will be dealing with the challenges of the construction process.”
During construction, the entire dispatch operation will have to move into the law enforcement complex library, and all McKenzie County law enforcement agencies and those state law enforcement agencies that make arrests in McKenzie County will lose access to the county’s jail space for at least six months.
According to Rankin, Ebel Communications will help the department  with a temporary dispatch setup to get them through the construction process.
He is also in the process of contacting the surrounding law enforcement agencies that work in McKenize County, as well as those who contract to take McKenzie County prisoners, to make them aware of the jail situation, and to put a plan in place to deal with arrests that are made while the complex is under construction.