Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., was introduced to the state of North Dakota by a helicopter ride 300 to 400 feet above the state's border with Canada.
The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee and former governor of Delaware needed that introduction to prepare himself for what he called "the tales of woe" and "grim" circumstances he would hear from the leaders of law enforcement agencies tasked with securing the border at a meeting at Minot City Hall at 10:15 a.m. Friday.
He came with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., to better understand the needs of the growing state.
Various regional, statewide and federal law enforcement leaders joined a discussion on protecting the state’s borders at Minot City Hall Friday morning. At the head of the table Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Tom Carper, D-Del., who is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, listen as Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski speaks.
There were some grim tales but John Dalziel, the senior supervisory resident agent in charge of North Dakota agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said that the senator "shouldn't look at is as grim" because the agencies across the state are doing more with less.
Because of the fewer federal agents in the state compared to other states, it became apparent that federal operations work slightly differently here.
U.S. Marshal for North Dakota Paul Ward said that his agency, which is comprised of just himself and three deputies, apprehended a "really bad guy" from California the day before. Unfortunately, he said, he had to enlist the help of the FBI "to do the U.S. Marshal's job."
Part of the compounding problem of a growing criminal element in the state is North Dakota's historic low population which is used to assign federal law enforcement numbers. Ward's office received a new assistant to take over some duties that a full-time deputy was handling on a part-time basis, thus freeing up some time to do their primary duties as warrant service agents and apprehending federal fugitives.
Ward still has to assign two of his deputies to court duties any time one of their charges appears in federal court, thus leaving just himself and one deputy in the field. He said that a total of seven operational deputies are needed.
The needs for additional U.S. Marshal Service officers will be ever greater because at another point in the conversation Heitkamp suggested that it was time for more than just two U.S. District judges in the state.
"A lot of this comes down to what the courts want to do," she said.
A reason Ward had said it's unfortunate that they seek help from the FBI in apprehending fugitives at times is because the FBI isn't boasting very strong numbers in the state either, with five special agents in Minot and another four in Bismarck. Two of those Minot-based agents spend all their time at Indian reservations in the state, with one overseeing the Turtle Mountain Reservation and the other overseeing Fort Berthold Reservation. Another spends a lot of the day commuting to and from the Bakken area, with Williston being mentioned as a specific beat.
Heitkamp gave Carper a breakdown on the special jurisdictional problems North Dakota faces that are not really a problem in his native Delaware. Indian reservations are sovereign nations and tribal police and Bureau of Indian Affairs police and agents are only allowed to arrest enrolled members of the tribe or tribes located on them. County and city police do not have jurisdiction to arrest on the reservations themselves. That makes a conundrum when an person who is not an enrolled member of a tribe creates trouble on the reservation. In that case only the FBI has jurisdiction to come in and apprehend the trouble maker.
Heitkamp did ask Dalziel if there was any intention of allowing agents to live in the areas they oversee so that commuting time could be cut down and their presence would be greater felt but Dalziel said that those types of questions are well above his pay-grade.
Both Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski and a member of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, who was formerly with the U.S. Drug Enforcement agency, said that there is a definite lack of DEA agents in the state while all the agencies are seeing major increases in drug trafficking within the state and coming to the state from outside. The agency isn't the only one, though, that needs a greater presence in the state, law enforcement leaders said, because operations and investigations of all kinds are increasing.
"Every time we do a prostitution operation it's like shooting fish in a barrel," Minot Police Department Chief Jason Olson said.
Without stating the name, Olson alluded to "The Mann's Club," which operated in the city until May 29, 2013, as the first "brothel" he has encountered in his 26 years as a police officer. Heitkamp drew differences between human trafficking and prostitution operations that are mutually consensual as being separate but Olson defended the idea that the brothel was a human trafficking operation.
Members of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that the north border doesn't get as much attention as the southern border but that they need at least the bare minimum to enforce the border. One station chief said that the agency has encountered more violent illegal aliens in recent times and that is a scary thought because he said there have been talks of reducing northern border operations.
The station chiefs also said that recruitment has become increasingly difficult because of the very competitive hiring environment in the state. Many young people will pass up the low pay and isolated conditions of being a border agent in favor of making much more money in the oil fields.
It was a lot for the two senators to digest in a little less than two hours but both had laundry lists of what to do to counteract the increasing demands of North Dakota law enforcement officers.
Heitkamp said that the immediate need is to have "more boots on the ground," although she recognizes the impediments to that as being restriction of salary and fringe benefits and the high cost of relocation. She said she wants to begin a "three month dialogue" on the situation. Carper said that in order to produce the funds needed for those "boots on the ground" he wants to reduce expenditures that look at entitlement reform "that doesn't savage old people and young people" and to increase revenue through "broad based tax reforms."