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Shortage of personnel adds more stress to others in JPD, Stutsman County offices

Jamestown Police Department, Stutsman County Sheriff's Office and Stutsman County State's Attorney's Office all have openings for positions.

police at car accident.jpg
A Jamestown police officer tends to an accident scene in September 2020. Scott Edinger, chief of police, said he and the lieutenants are on the streets when the Jamestown Police Department is down officers.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun file photo
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JAMESTOWN – A shortage of personnel in the Jamestown Police Department, Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office and Stutsman County State’s Attorney’s Office puts more stress on others to perform the day-to-day tasks of their departments.

The Jamestown Police Department has had two positions for police officers open for a couple of months and another position opened this week, said Scott Edinger, Jamestown chief of police. In addition to the unfilled positions, the department has one officer who is in training and won’t be ready to be on the streets until early summer, another who will be deployed for military duty for nine months, one who is a National Guard member who will do a bunch of training next year and three who will be going on maternity leave, he said.

“We are in a tough spot right now,” he said.

When the department is down officers, Edinger and the lieutenants, who have administrative duties to do as well, are on the streets. He said he’s probably taken more calls for service this year alone than he has in the last three years combined.

He said the Jamestown Police Department has had the same number of staffing it had in the 1970s. During the ’70s, he said the department didn’t have a resource officer, a task force officer or a fourth detective and all of those personnel would have been on the streets.

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Edinger said the department had five officers start in 2020 but only three are still employed. In 2019, seven officers started, but the department still has four of them.

He said many times the officers who leave are going to bigger cities with larger police departments that pay much better. He said some leave because they move closer to their hometowns where their families are located.

“The questions always come up: Are they getting good training here? Are they getting a good background,” he said. “Denver Police Department has hired multiple officers, and a department like that isn’t going to hire multiple officers if you are not doing a good job training people.”

Stutsman County Sheriff Chad Kaiser said his office has been down one night patrol position since February or March. He said being short one person means others have to pick up the extra shifts, which leads to paying overtime and employees not taking vacation time.

“If that person has vacation or gets sick, there are other shifts that have to make up for that,” he said. “Then we are moving people around from other shifts to cover that shift that is short.”

Stutsman County State’s Attorney Fritz Fremgen said his office is seeking one attorney I, which is an entry-level attorney. He said being down an attorney causes a backlog of cases that his office cannot get to immediately.

“We are not doing the job as well as we used to and that stress point causes burnout,” he said.

Are wages a factor in recruiting, retaining personnel?

Edinger said the wages for the Jamestown Police Department are just below the median when compared to other departments across the state. He said many agencies have moved to a system with guaranteed steps whereas the department has a step and range system.

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“Typically our steps are considered part of the cost of living, and so we might make up some ground for a while and then we immediately start falling back again all the time,” he said.

He said the department does not have vision and dental insurance and the family health care insurance is expensive.

“It is approaching $800 per month,” he said. “It is hard to get families here because nobody can afford the family insurance. So if somebody is going to start a family, they start looking at going somewhere else just from the insurance perspective alone. We have very good insurance but it is very expensive.”

In June, the Jamestown City Council approved a 4% cost-of-living raise and a 2.5% step raise for most city of Jamestown employees for the proposed 2023 budget.

Kaiser said the increase in the cost-of-living adjustment and steps are not quite where the Sheriff’s Office thought it would be at. He said the increases in the cost-of-living adjustment and step was done prior to the budgeting process.

He said he was not sure if the salary is the reason why the Sheriff’s Office still has an opening for the night patrol position.

“We will see where we are at next week with applicants if that changed anything or not,” he said.

In July, the Stutsman County Commission approved grade changes and salary increases for most employees in the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office and the state’s attorney’s office. The salary increases for the Sheriff’s Office positions ranged from about 4.7% to 5.1% and 10.1% to 15.4% for the state’s attorney’s office positions.

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Fremgen said the salary for the attorney I now starts at $68,815 per year. Before that, it was around $63,000 per year, he said.

In Fremgen’s state’s attorney’s report for August, he wrote his office has been short one attorney since January. He wrote that no attorney has applied with the $68,815 starting salary.

“We started looking at and making offers to people who weren’t attorneys who had graduated from law school but hadn’t gotten admitted to the bar, which we had done once before,” he said.

He said the office couldn’t even hire and keep two entry-level attorneys. He said his office has lost six attorneys over the years to Cass County.

“Pay is gigantic. It’s the prime factor,” Fremgen said.

A pay survey done by Fremgen in 2021 shows Cass County hires attorneys with less than one year of prosecution experience at a starting salary of $61,164 per year. Fremgen’s pay survey states the attorney can earn $90,473 per year after gaining more than one year of prosecution experience.

Fremgen said the entry-level attorney will get a boost in salary but it requires two years of experience and meeting other qualifications such as handling North Dakota Supreme Court appeals and complicated litigation among others.

“Then they would get a bump if they meet all of these qualifications including the two years experience to $74,581, (which is) still $30,000 less than Cass,” he said.

He said he’s tried different ways of advertising, including on Facebook and Indeed.

“What we found is these things are a waste of time,” he said. “We get applications from people who aren’t licensed in North Dakota. Then we’d entertain discussions, discover that they weren’t licensed in North Dakota. You might entertain whether you would ask them to apply for a provisional license, which allows them six months to practice.”

Mark Klose, commission chairman, said Stutsman County can’t always be the highest bidder, although the county needs to be competitive in its wages and benefits. He said it also depends on which county the wages are being compared to.

When looking at exit interviews for county employees, he said money wasn’t always the main consideration.

Costs to train employee

Edinger said it is difficult to put a number on how much it costs to train a new police officer but estimated it to be close to $100,000 for the first year. He said the department doesn’t really benefit from the new police officer.

“You are paying them, but they aren’t doing anything on their own,” he said. “They are doing it with another officer.”

When an officer starts, in most cases, the department sends the individual to the Law Enforcement Training Academy in Bismarck. Edinger said the department is paying the new officer to be at the academy for the entire 12 weeks as well as mileage to commute back and forth.

The officers will come back to Jamestown and spend another 12 weeks or more doing field training. After the field training, the new officer is closely monitored for a little while because it takes a while to get comfortable with the job.

“I can’t even say in my 31 years that I’ve seen every possibility,” he said. “There is new stuff that pops up all the time that we’ve never seen. So you have to work your way through those things and sometimes they are pretty technical and you need to get a few people’s perspectives on how to handle certain incidents. “

Edinger said Jamestown Police Department tries to get officers within the department to be training officers to teach the others on topics such as driving, first aid and firearms. But, when the department has high turnover, those instructors leave.

“You can’t take somebody without experience and teach them to be an instructor,” he said.

Kaiser said the Sheriff’s Office has a similar process to the Jamestown Police Department for new personnel.

“Depending on how long the field training takes, you still don’t have that position really covered fully,” he said. “And then on top of it, the uniform and all of the gear they have. It is quite a bit you have invested in your employees for sure.”

He said when Sheriff’s Office personnel are trained and then leave in a year, Stutsman County loses out.

“We have a lot of money stuck into that individual and that hurts,” he said.

Fremgen said when he had two brand new attorneys in June 2021, he was spending about 20% of his week training the new people. Although the new attorneys eventually get faster, more knowledgeable and independent, the training and helping others never really stops, he said.

“In fact those lawyers seek out a place where they are going to get time from a mentor and get trained because it’s our job and it requires that type of relationship with the senior associate,” he said.

He said once the attorneys leave and go elsewhere, all the money spent on training and investing in the employees walks out the door and is never coming back.

“It isn’t so bad if you can keep those people, but to continue to do the same thing to put in that time, to expend that money and have it walk out the door, like I said, I’ve done it with 14 lawyers over the years,” he said. “Because our wages are low, this is the collateral consequence. Our investment never gives us a return. It always walks out the door.”

Fremgen said he does understand all sides of the situation and where the county commission is coming from.

Masaki Ova joined The Jamestown Sun in August 2021 as a reporter. He grew up on a farm near Pingree, N.D. He majored in communications at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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