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Holding cells for police thwarted by federal law

 

Posted 2/02/16 (Tue)

By Kevin Killough
Unfortunate news hit the Tioga police department, and it may also impact Ray’s police.
Federal laws requiring new law enforcement facilities be separated from city administration offices will mean Tioga’s new city hall will not have new law enforcement offices or the holding cells that would have been part of the project. 
According to Mayor Drake McClelland, a structural engineer reviewing the project recently discovered the issue and alerted the city.
“We’re really disappointed,” said Police Commissioner Ronda Davidson. “But the law is the law.” 
Not this year
The only option now would be to build a new structure sometime in the future. And with the city’s revenue problems erupting as a result of the slowdown in the oil industry, the city can’t make any definitive plans for new police facilities. 
McClelland said the city would look for options, but any solutions can’t be pursued this building season. 
“We’re going to have to find another way to go about it,” McClelland said. 
Ray is also pursuing its own facilities and may face the same problem. Last month, Ray Commissioner voted to have Commissioner Travis Rettig pursue funding through the county for a new city hall, specifically to address the security issues with the current offices law enforcement uses. 
The preliminary drawings to determine square footage included new facilities for the Ray Police and county sheriff within the same structure as the town’s administrative offices. Rettig told his commission Monday, however, he believes the federal rule only applies to jails, not holding cells. (See story Page 8). 
Transport
The time it takes to transport prisoners is a large burden on local police. 
“It can take a couple hours out of your day,” said Ray police officer, James Sawyer. 
Sometimes there is a line of officers booking transports into the jail, which increases the time the officer spends on the task.
Sawyer said it hasn’t come up for him, but it is possible overcrowding at the county facility could make them turn officers transporting prisoners away. If that happened, Sawyer would have to transport the prisoner to Minot.
“We could definitely use another facility,” Sawyer said.
Tioga faces the same problems. According to Police Administrator Jeff Spivey, a perfect transport takes about 3 to 3.5 man hours from law enforcement. 
A line at booking can increase that, but there’s not a lot the jail can do with its current capacity.
“It’s not that they’re slow. They’re just busy,” Spivey said.
Divide County
The Divide County Sheriff’s resources are also taxed in the same way. They transport most of their prisoners to a facility in Plentywood, Mont., but the facility can only take low-level, non-violent offenders.
“We haul a lot to Rugby,” said Sheriff Lauren Throntveit. 
That’s a nine-hour trip for an officer. 
They also utilize the Williams County jail in Williston, but several times a year they get turned away.
The department’s problem is further taxed by their proximity to the border with Canada. 
“A lot of people get to the border of Canada and think it’s land of the free. We end up having to hold them for warrants in other states,” Throntveit explained.
Sometimes the states that issued the warrants don’t reimburse the county for any medical expenses incurred during holding and transport.
Other factors
Medical care is part of the transportation process and can be another drain on officers’ time. 
If a prisoner has any medical issues, the police are required to take him or her to a hospital for a checkup before transport. 
The officer must be with the prisoner at all times, so the officer must wait at the hospital until the doctors clear the prisoner for transport. 
Spivey said other factors, such as weather, can also increase transport time. 
The holding cells in the new offices were not going to eliminate all these problems, but they would have created more flexibility in transport needs. If the weather is bad, the prisoner could be secured until it cleared. 
And the department could wait for a reserve officer to become available to transport the prisoner, which would reduce time demands on patrol officers. 
Statewide problem
For the past few years crime rates have risen in the state, especially in the oil patch, which placed greater burdens on county jail facilities. 
A new survey by the North Dakota Association of Counties shows, while the problem is being addressed, it’s still an issue.
The survey looked at 23 jails in the state that are licensed to hold prisoners for more than 96 hours. The current total capacity in the state is about 1,750, which is about the same number of prisoners the currently has in county jails.
This is an increase from 950 in 2005. The number of inmates in state prisons has also increased seen an increase from just over 1000 in 2005 to about 1375 in 2015. 
Six of the jails, including the Williams County facility, are operating above capacity. 
Nine of the 23 jails are currently being replaced or expanded, increasing statewide jail capacity by 840 beds or 48 percent. 
Construction of an additional facility in Williston is expected to begin this spring. This will increase the county’s capacity by about 240 inmates, with a price tag of $20 million.
Throntveit said planned facilities in Mountrail and McKenzie Counties could go a long way to alleviating the burden on his department, when they begin accepting transports. 
The NDAOC survey noted nationwide, about 21 percent of inmates in local jails were there awaiting trial or transfer. In North Dakota, the number portion is 37 percent.
To put crime in the state in perspective, North Dakota has one of the lowest inmate populations of all the 50 states, at 470 inmates per 100,000 residents. Louisiana is the highest with 1,420 inmates per 100,000 residents.