Minn. law enforcement officers double as BorderA group of law enforcement officers from Kittson County are using its days off to moonlight for the U.S. Border Patrol, scouring this remote, frozen land in northwestern Minnesota for people who don’t seem to belong.
NOYES, Minn. (AP) — A group of law enforcement officers from Kittson County are using its days off to moonlight for the U.S. Border Patrol, scouring this remote, frozen land in northwestern Minnesota for people who don’t seem to belong.
“We pretty much know everybody around here and their vehicles, so we know when someone’s suspicious,” said Matt Vig, a Kittson County sheriff’s deputy.
Vig and some of his colleagues, including Hallock Police Chief Mike Docken, are among a group of law enforcement that have been helping the Border Patrol over the last few weeks. In doing so, they’ve been saving tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayers’ money.
Kittson County is among 10 counties along the Canadian border in Minnesota and North Dakota that are participating in Operation Stonegarden, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security program designed to help protect the nation’s borders.
Local law enforcement agencies benefit because the federal government pays for equipment and for additional hours of patrolling.
Brett Baumann, assistant chief patrol agent for the Border Patrol’s Grand Forks sector, which covers all of North Dakota and Minnesota, said the additional patrols augment other security measures, including motion sensors and cameras, as well as helicopters, airplanes and unmanned aircraft.
While the number of Border Patrol officers in the Grand Forks Sector has doubled to about 20 in the past decade, they have to cover a border that is more than 600 miles long in the two states.
“The resources are spread pretty thin in a remote area like this,” said Docken, the Hallock police chief.
“You can have all the equipment in the world,” said Kittson County Sheriff Kenny Hultgren. “But if a camera catches something, how do you respond to it? The Border Patrol might be responding to an incident 100 miles away. That’s where we come in. We can respond, and we know the area.”
Some counties have deputies help Border Patrol by extending their eight-hour shifts to 12 hours. Others ask officers to work on their days off.
Vig said he doesn’t mind putting in the extra time. He said at least so far, the extra shifts and hours have not taken a physical or mental toll.
“The money’s good,” he said.
The real payoff, Hultgren said, could come down the road.
“The day may come that we stop an individual near the border,” he said. “We may not know it at the time, but that person could be a terrorist, part of a sleeper cell, that’s trying to sneak into the country.”
In addition to Kittson County, Operation Stonegarden also includes the counties of Roseau, Lake of the Woods, Cook, Koochiching, Lake and St. Louis in Minnesota, and Pembina, Rolette and Divide in North Dakota.
Kittson County’s allotment is $478,000. Roseau County is receiving $870,000, while Pembina County is getting about $290,000.
The funds were initially to pay for the program for three years, but the timeline was changed to 18 months. Participating counties and others already are filing for funding for Fiscal Year 2009 — the 2008 funds run through 2010, while 2009 funds will run through 2011, which creates some overlap.
Roughly half of the money is used to pay deputies. They get paid time-and-a-half wages when they’re working for the Border Patrol. The rest of the money pays for equipment.
The counties are benefiting.
Hultgren said he normally budgets one new police vehicle a year, at $30,000, to county taxpayers.
This year, Homeland Security is paying for the new Ford Expedition he has ordered.