October 12, 2011

Police struggling with county’s dispatch, jail service

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

The Watford City Police Department’s frustration with the level of dispatch and jail service that it is receiving as part of the city’s contract with the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Dept. took center stage during the Watford City City Council’s meeting on Monday, Oct. 3.
“Right now we’re not getting dispatch services from county dispatchers,” stated Slade Herfindahl, city police chief. “And whenever we arrest someone, my officers have to book that prisoner, take their fingerprints and photo, shower them and provide them with their jail clothing. And when they are released from jail, my officers have to handle all the duties.”
And that, according to Herfindahl, is not right and should be the county’s responsibility.
According to Herfindahl, the city is currently paying the county $22,000 yearly for dispatch and jail services, and he questions whether or not the city is getting its fair shake.
“From what I see happening, the county dispatchers are telling Watford City residents who call into the sheriff’s office to call the local police department number,” stated Herfindahl. “We (the city police department) don’t maintain an office to dispatch our officers.”
As an alternative to using the county for dispatch services, Herfindahl informed the council that he has been in contact with North Dakota State Radio to see if they would provide dispatch services for the city.
“State Radio has told me that they would provide our city’s dispatch service for us,” stated Herfindahl. “The only drawback that I see with that option is the loss of local phone call service.”
According to Herfindahl, State Radio would charge the city 37 cents per residential phone line per month for the dispatch service. A fee which he believes would be recouped from the current  911 fee of $1 per residential line.
While the city police department  feels strongly that its dispatch services could be handled by State Radio, Ben Weltikol, city fire chief, also sees some benefit to using State Radio versus county dispatchers.
“From my perspective, I recommend going with State Radio,” Weltikol told the council. “They (State Radio) ask more pertinent questions during a 911 call and as a result, they can provide us with more accurate information when it comes to responding to an emergency.”
While the council did not take any action during Monday night’s meeting on shifting the city’s dispatch services away from the county, the council did authorize the city attorney to request an Attorney General’s opinion on the county’s responsibility for jailing people arrested for violating laws within the North Dakota Century Code.
According to Wyatt Voll, city attorney, receiving an Attorney General’s opinion can take up to six months. But that opinion would provide the city with a clear understanding of the county’s role in providing jail services.
“The county may not have to house individuals in the county jail who are charged on municipal offenses,” stated Voll.
And that is why Herfindahl is in favor of getting an Attorney General’s opinion.
“There is definitely a gray area involved here,” stated Herfindahl. “But the Century Code also says that the county is responsible for housing and transporting prisoners.”
While Herfindahl recognizes that the county sheriff’s department is stretched thin, he hopes that there is a way for the two agencies to deal with prisoners.
“We’re averaging two prisoners a night in the county jail right now,” stated Herfindahl. “We don’t have any option other than the county jail to house our prisoners.”
But according to Sanford, the county is considering the possibility of discontinuing the jail contract with the city or doubling the fee that is being charged to the city.
“I have met with Sheriff Rankin on the issue of jail service,” stated Sanford. “And he has indicated that the cost of providing jail service to the city could increase from $22,000 to $44,000 per year.”