Mandan, N.D. — Complaining isn’t really part of the culture of North Dakota. Whether faced with floods, blizzards, or protests, people pitch in to help out their communities and focus on getting the job done. Even now, as the DAPL protests stretch on for more than 105 days, area law enforcement and residents rarely express their criticism outright. Instead, they show up at the local police department with boxes of snacks, cases of bottled water, paper plates, and homemade bread.
That doesn’t mean that the strain isn’t beginning to show, particularly as the Mandan and Bismarck police departments are increasingly forced to cover not only local incidents, but also unrest at a protest site 45 minutes away.
On Friday, the sheriff’s department in Morton County, North Dakota held a press conference to address the escalating situation outside of the Dakota Access Pipeline construction and protest sites. Speaking to a group of reporters and community members in Mandan, N.D., Gov. Jack Dalrymple expressed concern over a recent decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to delay the completion of the DAPL construction.
“It increases the cost, it increases the risk of something happening that everyone would regret, and I think that it is a mistake on the part of the Corps,” said Dalrymple, who stated that he had called to personally urge the Corps’ commander to complete the discussion as quickly as possible.
In a letter sent by Army Corps Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline construction, the Corps indefinitely halted construction, saying that further work “cannot occur because the Army has not made a final decision on whether to grant an easement” under the Missouri River. The letter also said that further analysis of the issue was needed, and that the Corps would adopt a timeline “that allows for robust discussion and analysis to be completed expeditiously.”
“Time is of the essence,” Dalrymple said. “It does no good to extend this longer than it already has.”
As the protests drag on, the situation is becoming more concerning for state and local officials. Increasingly, protesters are moving from rural areas of Morton County, into Mandan and Bismarck, causing concerns about the safety of citizens in these areas and requiring coordination between additional police departments to keep people safe.
Mandan police chief Jason Ziegler stressed that the police department was there to protect people’s rights, but made it clear that this includes the right of citizens to work and go about their daily lives, not only the right of protesters to gather and demonstrate. However, as the protesters begin to move into the city to take over streets, the two groups are increasingly coming into contact.
Several of the men who spoke expressed concern that violence could break out between protesters and supporters of the police. While they thanked citizens for their community support, law enforcement officers at all levels stressed the need for citizens to avoid directly engaging hostile protesters.
“Please just don’t have negative contact with these protesters, it’s just not worth it,” said Ziegler
Still, as long as the federal government allows the protesters to continue to camp in the Cannon Ball area and delays a final decision on the pipeline construction, it falls to the state to deal with the day to day situation on the ground. Despite pressure from Dalrymple’s office on the federal government, so far North Dakota has received little assistance in either funds or manpower.
“This isn’t a state of North Dakota Problem. This isn’t a Morton County problem, or a Mandan problem, or a Bismarck problem. This is a federal problem,” said Mandan Mayor Tim Helbling, who urged citizens not to take matters into their own hands, but to call their representatives to urge them to pressure the Army Corps to resolve the issue.
For police, the situation is becoming more and more worrisome. Starting on Thursday, opponents of the pipeline began to post the personal information–including name, address, and date of birth–of area police officers on Facebook, a practice known as doxxing. These doxxing attacks suggest to the police department that “professional protesters” are trying to intimidate police officers and their families.
“There is simply no reason for protesters to release the personal information of our officers other than to facilitate tactics of intimidation and harassment,” said Donlin, who described these actions as “not peaceful.”
Still, he and the other officers made a distinction between the violent agitators and peaceful protesters.
“We know locally that while there is activity that is prayerful and peaceful and lawful, we also know that, masked in [the groups of protesters] there is violence and the potential for violence,” said Donlin.
The protests are a mix of both groups, he said. Law enforcement is in the middle, trying to balance the right to protest with groups of agitators that break the law by blocking streets and traffic. He reiterated Ziegler’s advice, telling citizens who were in the area of an altercation to remain indoors until the situation was resolved.
Despite this escalation, local law enforcement has been left to deal with the stress and expense of the protests largely on their own. So far, the federal government has not offered additional manpower through the support of the U.S. Marshals or monetary assistance.