Bismarck activists call for police reform in North Dakota

Local News

KX News began what’s become an ongoing discussion with the Bismarck Police Department last week.

We laid out the reporting process for anyone who may fall victim to police misconduct, including excessive force.

Tonight, we discuss reform.

The changes being talked about on a national level haven’t really been brought to the forefront in central and western North Dakota, until now. We sat down with a Bismarck grassroots group who have put together a list of requested reforms that would specifically affect Bismarck Police.

The group, Equality & Justice for People of Color, formed weeks ago, bringing together like-minded North Dakotans looking for reform.
“The system fails people, 100 percent. That’s why there’s so much crime. The crime these people are complaining about is because they’re failing us. We’re paying you guys and you’re failing us,” shared an emotional Michelle LaPoint, one of the Administrators of Equality & Justice for People of Color.

The top request: slash the agency’s budget by two-thirds.

“…First step is to decrease police funding in the budget to less than 5-million a year,” elaborated Alexis Whittey, Equality & Justice for People of Color Member.

BPD’s Deputy Chief Jason Stugelmeyer says the proposal would cut half of the agency’s police force, among other things, and he says, that’s just not doable.

“Defunding the police means that you have to cut training. Well, training is where we train our officers to do the right thing,” the Deputy Chief explained.

Here are the remaining requests:

  • Allocate all remaining funds to public health.
  • Explicitly designate amounts to mental health resources for schools, single parents, rehab, and pediatric health.
  • Assign one licensed psychologist per 200 students for Bismarck schools.

“I did grow up here…basically me and my brother, half the time, being the only black kids in our class or being the only non-white kids sometimes in our classes, “Whittey shared. “When I was in school, seeing people or parents ending up in situations with police, 9 times out of 10, it had to do with something mental health-related.”

And this is where the activists and law enforcement start seeing eye to eye.

“When there are limited services in a lot of communities, and there are in this community like there are in every community– it’s left to fall on the officer’s lap, because we’re out there 24 hours, 7 days a week,” Stugelmeyer added.

Ultimately, he says more mental health services are needed, but cutting their budget is not the answer.

He sent us a list of all of the calls BPD took over the course of three days. There were 527. Most are crime or traffic stops with the exception of some medical calls, which Deputy Chief Stugelmeyer says officers are purposefully dispatched to, because they carry medical kits and can usually arrive on scene first.

“If you cut people, you’re going to get less of a response. If you’re a victim of a crime, our response times are going to have to be reduced. If you reduce, for example, salaries and benefits, we’re not attracting the best and brightest police officers. So it’s a snowball effect you don’t want to have happen when you start defunding,” Stugelmeyer shared.

But this group of activists says something’s got to change, even here.

“We need a civilian police accountability council because we need to police the police, because they’re harming our people and we can’t do nothing,” LaPoint said through tears. “They have qualified immunity and we can’t do nothing.”

Stugelmeyer says what all law enforcement agencies need is a good foundation: trustworthy recruits, adequate training, and the right culture– all things he says are important to his department.

Here’s a better picture of how the police department’s budget fits into Bismarck’s spending as a whole:

  • For 2020, police expenditure add up to $16,104,582.
  • The total budget for the City is $233,378,725

That’s 6.9 percent of the city’s total spending for the year. Public Health makes up just 1.1 percent.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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