Dakota pipeine deployment came amid Hennepin County budget review

By Mike Kaszuba

When calls for police assistance came during the protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota last year, three of Minnesota’s eighty seven counties volunteered to send deputies to help.

Anoka County sent six deputies, Washington County sent five, and Hennepin County sent twenty nine.

The staffing figures were obtained by Public Record Media, a St. Paul non-profit, from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, which guides the state’s participation in the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.  The compact, a mutual aid agreement between all 50 states, enables – but does not require – law enforcement agencies to respond to requests for help in other states, and allows them to be reimbursed later.

Deployment came as sheriff’s office sought budget increases

At the time that Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek offered to send deputies to North Dakota, the sheriff was making the case that he needed more financial help to meet Hennepin County’s law enforcement needs.  In an annual budget presentation before county officials in September, Stanek said his office needed more deputies and a $5.5 million increase in operating money for 2017.

A review by PRM of county documents revealed that the sheriff’s office had struggled with cuts in the number of full-time positions over the past decade.

During its 2017 budget presentation, Stanek’s office also acknowledged that overtime pay had increased approximately 20 percent over the past year because of continuing problems with manpower shortages due to turnover and other issues, such as parental and family leave.  In September, Stanek’s aides told the county board that 102 people had been hired by the Sheriff’s Office since the start of the year to fill job openings created by employees leaving – or on leave from – the sheriff’s office.

The office needed five to eight percent of its operating budget for overtime, county board officials were told.  The sheriff’s office said that the overtime increase was due to a variety of reasons, including “some of [the] things you see on TV at night, some of the bigger demonstrations [like those along Interstate] 94 in St. Paul.”

“We’re a 24-7 operation,” a sheriff’s office official explained.  “For the large part of our agency, if they call in sick, if they have [family leave]. . .we don’t get to just leave that post” vacant.

“When do we see this [overtime] number go down?” asked Jan Callison, the Hennepin County Board chair.

These are “challenging and obviously evolving times” Stanek said in his budget address.  Violent crime in the county, he added, had increased six percent over the previous year, and had risen almost eight percent from two years before.  But he pledged that his employees – the office had 799 full-time jobs in 2016 – stood “ready to serve the residents of this county.”

“You don’t have to look too much further than [to] what just happened in the last several months, whether [it be terrorist incidents in] San Bernardino, California, Orlando, Florida, Dallas, Texas. . .we all wish and pray that it didn’t happen so frequently,” Staneck told the county board.  He added that he was confident that his budget would “allow us to continue providing nation-leading public safety services to the communities in Hennepin County, but also respecting and protecting the interests of the taxpayers in the county.”

Separate from the sheriff’s office budget request, Stanek was told by the county board that effective Christmas Day he was entitled to a 2.5 percent pay increase, raising his annual salary to $169,126.88.

Looking back at the Sheriff’s Office budget 

While the sheriff’s office budget has gradually increased since Stanek took office a decade ago, the number of full-time positions assigned to his office has been cut and has still not gone back to its pre-recession levels.

In 2005 (Stanek took office in January 2007) the sheriff’s office had 770 full-time positions.  The total rose to 827.5 by the end of 2008, and reached 835 positions by 2010, according to county budget numbers for that year.  However, by the end of 2012, the figure had fallen to 808 positions.

In his September remarks before the county board, Stanek asked for four more positions, which would increase the number of full-time jobs to 803.  But last month, the county board authorized the transfer of 17 positions to another unit, leaving the sheriff’s office with 786 full-time positions for 2017.

In recent years, the sheriff’s office’s budget has gradually grown. The budget stood at $83.3 million at the end of 2008, rose to $86 million by the end of 2012, and was $89.5 million by the end of 2013.  By the end of 2014, it stood at $92.1 million.

The sheriff’s office requested a $5.45 million operating budget increase for 2017 – a boost that would have taken the budget to $106.2 million.  In the end, the county board approved a $103.5 million budget for the sheriff’s office for 2017.

Budget impacts of North Dakota deployment

In a statement to PRM, the sheriff’s office said that voluntarily sending deputies to North Dakota was unrelated to the office’s own budget needs in Hennepin County.

The sheriff’s office said it based its 2017 budget request to the county board “on the operational needs of the agency along with projected growth.  Expenses related to mutual aid deployments to Morton County, North Dakota [were] not factors in the budget request, as all expenses related to those operations are 100% reimbursable.”

When North Dakota asked for assistance in late October, Hennepin County was one of three counties that responded, said Bruce Gordon, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

“North Dakota Department of Emergency Services [NDDES] contacted [authorities] to process the request through the compact,” Gordon said in an email to PRM in November.  “The requesting state, through the compact, asks for resources [people, equipment, etc.] based on their needs.

“Agencies with those resources are able to respond to a request, but there is no obligation or order to participate,” he added.