For years, the Mandan Police Department has struggled to stay fully staffed.
It’s been such a continuous problem that it’s hard for higher-ups at the PD to even trace the issue back to the origin.
At its lowest point, the Mandan Police Department had just eight full-time officers on staff.
“People leave, we hire new people. I think that’s just how it goes with the job,” Officer Garrett Stepp explained.
Fellow Mandan Officer Mike Kapella added, “Mandan’s always had to compete with Bismarck.”
But as of 2020, for the first time in quite a while, the PD is fully staffed, with 38 sworn officers.
“I applied at a couple of different places, and day of graduation, Mandan Police offered me a job,” shared Officer Kapella.
He took his first policing job with Mandan back in 2007. Then in 2012, he made the transfer over to the Bismarck Police Department.
He explained, “It was more of a fiscal thing. I always liked working Mandan, and the community and the people, and all that. It was just a different opportunity, better for me at the time.”
But, things changed and started getting better for two reasons: the Mandan PD switched up its retirement plan, but more importantly for many officers, the department agreed to pay family health insurance in full, as of 2018.
Before, Officer Kapella was paying hundreds out of his own pocket each month.
This switch brought him back to the Mandan force last year.
“It’s huge for me, I mean the money adds up pretty quick and the benefits… you realize as you get older I think, I did anyway, how important the benefits are,” Kapella added.
“I think that’s big on keeping people that are here now, here. And then also, people looking from the outside that are trying to figure out where they want to work at,” Officer Stepp shared.
He has been with the Mandan PD for just under two years. He said even fully staffed, they have a low number of officers.
“I think any department you go to they’ll say they could always have more guys. More is always better,” Stepp explained.
It’s ultimately up to the Mandan City Commission to approve more patrol officers.
“The difference in the crime rate, the drugs we’re seeing, how many calls to service we’re taking, compared to when I first started in 2007…the more people we can have on the street, the better. I mean there’s times we’re working here with just three officers for 20,000 people, and that’s just not good,” Officer Kapella concluded.
Officer Stepp assured, even when the department has been severely low on officers, they are not overworked, just under-staffed for most shifts. On the flip side, as Kapella said, that doesn’t allow officers to have much of a back-up.
Mandan Police Deputy Chief Lori Flaten said the next thing that needs improving is pay. She said this will help them compete with Bismarck.
Bismarck Police Looking to Hire
Speaking of, the Bismarck Police Department has four openings to fill.
There are nine officers going through training. But, they are already hired and won’t fill the remaining four vacancies, meaning, there are really 13 holes in the department.
Among the reasons why, Chief Dave Draovitch said they aren’t getting as many applications as they’d like. He said when he was first hired as an officer with the BPD in the late 1980s, there were rarely more than just a couple of open spots a year.
The chief said since about 2009 when the oil boom hit, things have been totally different.
“We were playing a lot of catch-up back then. We just needed more people, and we added. The city was really good to us, they gave us the people that we needed, but it’s been a struggle to get fully staffed to what we’re authorized,” the Bismarck chief shared.
Bismarck would need 129 officers to be considered fully staffed.
The City Commission did approve a performance-based raise for officers for this year.
Chief Draovitch said the next step is to start teaching kids about the possibilities of a career in law enforcement.