Mike Lee, Grand Forks County Sheriff candidateHome: Northwood
Job: corporal with the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department
Family: married with two children
Education: college credits, vocational certificate
Leadership experience: field-training officer with Grand Forks County Sheriff's Department; basic-training squad leader in National Guard; past owner of trucking company
Q. Why are you running for sheriff?
A. I’m running for sheriff because I believe we need to have a change in the daily operations of the sheriff’s department. I think that we need to have a cultural change within the department and make it a more proactive agency out in the public’s eye.
We need to have daytime patrol as well as a nighttime patrol, having the deputies visible out in the county. We need to have those deputies eating dinner at the schools like Thompson, Northwood, Larimore, Midway. We need to have the deputies in there meeting with the faculty during dinner, meeting with the students. And I’m not saying we need to do this every day, but it needs to happen more than one day a week.
You know, we need to have aggressive criminal interdiction on the highway, criminal drug interdiction. You know, there’s just a whole wide variety that we need to cover. … So those are some of the reasons that I’m running for sheriff. Like I said, we just need to have a change in the daily operations of our department and be more proactive.
Q. Could you tell us about your background?
A. I’m currently a deputy with the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Office. I’m a K-9 handler. I’m a drug-recognition evaluator-expert. I’m also a field-training officer with the rank of corporal.
I’ve been in law enforcement just over 11 years, going on 12 years this fall. You know, I’m the only drug-recognition expert that our department has. I’m one of a handful in the state. In North Dakota, there are about 30 of us. There also are about 3,000 nationwide. So that gives me just a little bit more of an opportunity, when we’re talking about drugs, to do a better job with drugs.
Q. What does being a drug-recognition expert involve?
A. That involves a 12-step process where we evaluate subjects who we believe are under the influence where any other officer can call us and say, "You know what, can you give me probable cause to arrest?" And I’ll look at somebody to do some preliminary tests and say, "Yes, this guy’s under the influence of some kind of a substance."
We do a 12-step process where we check the blood pressure, we check their pulse three times, we check they’re body temperature, we do psycho-physical tests, we test their eyes in a dark room … just a whole gamut of tests that we run them through. And from that we can determine -- along with the observations that we make, from those tests and the initial observation and interview from the arresting officer -- what category of drug that subject would be under the influence of. It’s a pretty unique deal.
You know, I don’t have a four-year criminal-justice degree like some of the candidates. I do have some college credits, and I do have a vocational certificate. But my 11-plus years of experience, I think, will equate to being just as equal as the 31 or 41 years that some of the other candidates have.
Q. Are you from North Dakota originally?
A. I am. I grew up in Hillsboro, N.D., just 40 miles down the road, so I’m fairly local. I’ve lived in Northwood, N.D., since 1985 with my wife and kids.
I’ve served the community there voluntarily in community organizations: Northwood Mens Club, Cub Scouts, doing other charitable stuff, Socks for Kids. I’ve donated a lot of my time to the community and multiple communities, especially with the Northwood Mens Club and Socks for Kids.
Q. How do you feel your professional and life experiences would help you if elected?
A. My experience on the road for the past 11-plus years makes me more in touch with North Dakota case law and U.S. Supreme Court case law than the other candidates that we have. My statistical record with our department will also prove that.
I’m aggressive on drugs. I have the statistics to prove that. Criminal interdiction, and I have the statistics to prove that. There isn’t another candidate out there that I think that is any better than I am, and that's because of my road experience and my life experience.
I’ve been self-employed as a business owner, you know, and that gives me an edge with the budget issues and dealing with subordinates. So I have every amount of experience -- if not better experience -- that any other candidate would have.
Q. What sort of business did you own?
A. I owned a trucking company, and I was also self-employed as a farrier at the same time.
I had to hire subordinates to drive trucks, and with that comes hiring and firing and paying salaries. And also, you've got fuel costs and vehicle maintenance. So again, that gives me an edge that probably other candidates haven’t had. They’ve not been in business; they’ve been working for a paycheck their whole life.
Also, because of my experience I tend to be pretty frugal. Not so frugal that I’m going to take things away from the citizens that are essential and that we need to have, but I am going to be frugal when it comes to the tax dollar of the citizens of Grand Forks County, and I'll make sure that we get the best possible value for that dollar.
Q. You said there are certain changes you would like to make in the department. Could you tell us more about those changes and how you would go about making them?
A. A lot of it is just internal stuff -- politics, if you will. You know, promotions and shift schedules, shift changing, we need to take a serious look at that.
We need to have a fair playing field for all the employees as to how the promotions will be laid out and be sought after. It seems to me that up until now, they’ve been based on patronage, and I could give you examples of that. I really don’t want to do so at this time, but I could do that.
You know, everybody wants to be appreciated. And of course money is a big issue for everybody. None of the deputies are paid an extremely large salary by any means, but people want to be appreciated. They want to know that they did a good job -- you know, once in a while a simple pat on the back, "Hey, you guys did a good job."
For example, I'm talking about the new sheriff -- me -- providing a Christmas party where they don’t have to buy their own meal. That does a lot for morale, and we need to have a better morale in our department because over the past few years, it’s really been slipping. And a lot of that is because when it comes to corporal spots or sergeant spots, and the staff doesn't have a fair test where any standards justify who is going to get that position, it creates a lot of animosity between the employees.
Q. What is the current system for deciding promotions? What would be a better one?
A. Currently, there really is no process. You'll hear deputies say that they haven’t had an evaluation, ever. So that's the first thing: We need to have evaluations on the people as well as the supervisors.
And we need to have a promotions test where you get a gradable score. We need to have an interview board made of different personnel, be it a highway patrol member, a Grand Forks Police Department member, a UND Police department member and maybe an East Grand Forks P.D. member, along with a member from our department to do an oral interview. That way, we can get the guys who really want the position or would be best suited for it.
Right now, you’re just basically throwing your name out there: "You know, I’d like to have that job." "Well, I think I like you this week." And that’s not fair to anybody.
There are a lot of good deputies there. Everybody’s kind of got a specialty that they’re really good at; and we just need to look at the way we’re promoting from within.
Q. Where would you find the resources for a drug-seizure program on the highways and for more daytime patrols?
A. Well, there would be a reallocation of the human resources. The county’s got the resources to do that. Right now, there are between 15 and 18 people on duty during the day shift with nobody on daytime patrol. Again, rescheduling the schedule so we can get that daytime patrol and reallocating some of those bodies, we can get them out there. We can have them in the schools. We can have them do interdiction.
As far as the budget: the funding is there. At some point in time, there will probably more of a budget issue. ... But you know, there are things we can do to trim the budget. For example, paper within the office. We go through reams and reams and reams of paper, and we have paperwork that’s duplicated and triplicated which doesn’t need to be done. That’s just a small example.
As far as cutting services, we have enough resources where we don’t need to do that. There are other things we can do as far as budget issues, including applying for federal grants — instead of burning county tax dollars, burn federal revenue. Along with that and with the criminal interdiction, we could have some large cash seizures from drug interdiction. There are drugs going up and down the interstate every day of the week. It’s coming across Highway 2 as well.
You go south of here down to South Dakota and Iowa. They seize millions of dollars annually on drug seizures and asset forfeitures, and our department needs to do that so we can relieve some of the tax burden from our county citizens.
Q. What are the major issues facing the county, whether it’s crime or social issues, that the sheriff's department could help do something about?
A. There are a lot of social issues, and there’s a lot of crime. I think they’re both serious issues. Social issues would include underage drinking, for one; driving under the influence -- and I’m not going to lie to you, I wrote more DUIs than anybody in our department last year and for other years as well.
Underage drinking: That’s costing taxpayers and the county a significant amount of money in rehabilitation or criminal investigations from criminal mischief. And with that underage drinking comes physical and sexual assaults, as well as theft of property, just a whole wide gamut of things.
So, underage drinking is a big social issue. DUI: You know, I don’t think that somebody going to dinner with their spouse and having a glass of wine is necessarily the guy that we need to go look for, but driving under the influence is also a big social issue in Grand Forks County.
And other crimes: Domestic violence: We go on very few domestics where alcohol isn’t a factor. So, the big thing is social impact, and the other thing is basically the criminal interdiction. I mean, we've got a lot of crime in the rural communities, and it’s happening during the daylight hours.
You know, they haven’t seen a deputy in the western part of the county for 20-plus years, so they’re used to not having a deputy out there; and when people don’t have that law-enforcement presence, pretty soon they think, "You know what? I can do whatever I want, because there’s nobody here. If I want to go take this guy’s piece of farm machinery, I can do that. I can cut it up into scrap iron and go sell it." So those are things that we need to address.
Q. Larimore recently signed a contract to have deputies patrol the town. What are your thoughts on that?
A. As a sheriff candidate, part of my original platform was to have a satellite office in Larimore. And contract policing is something that we could extend to other towns like Thompson and Northwood.
But the people in those communities, they've got to want to have the sheriff’s office in there. And it costs them money; they have to pay for those services. I don’t know that the towns would get any better coverage unless there’s actually a deputy there, living there and stationed there.
Traill County has communities that they contract with, and the deputies go back and forth between the communities. It seems to work really well for them, and it’s something that could work here, but I don’t know that you’re going to get every community on board with that.
I think Northwood likes having their own police department. I think Thompson does. And you know, when you live in a small town, in a rural community, you live there because you like the simple life and you like the freedom. You like not having the hustle and bustle of the city life. And with that, you tend to think that you should have a little more freedom and few more liberties. And you kind of want to have a lax law enforcement -- until it’s time where you need them, where your house has been broken into.
Even if we’re not contract policing with them, we’re really a support agency for those law-enforcement agencies to help them with their criminal investigations. So, you know, to say that we need to go contract with every community in the county, I don’t necessarily agree with that.
Q. How would you address the problem of prescription drug abuse in the county?
A. Obviously, it’s up to the physicians who prescribe the stuff, but a lot of these pharmaceuticals are stolen, too. One way that we can combat that is to train more drug-recognition evaluator-experts, so when they’re out on patrol, they can detect when somebody’s under the influence of a prescription narcotic. That’s one way that we can combat that.
There’s a lot of prescription substance abuse, a lot, and you’re seeing it more and more all the time. It’s easy to get ahold of. But basically, training the deputies to be a DRE like myself is the biggest and foremost way to combat that problem.
Q. What are the qualities of a good sheriff?
A. I think the qualities of a good sheriff are somebody who knows the communities, knows the people, is visible to the people and the public and gives his deputies some recognition when they well deserve it.
I think also that the sheriff needs to be a good strong leader, have a strong voice in the community and, you know, work with the prosecutors to stop the revolving door at the jail. Those are some good qualities of a sheriff; and I am that strong voice for our community, all of our communities, all of our citizens.
Because that’s what I plan on doing. I plan on being out on patrol. I plan on being in the office, doing the administrative part. I plan on being that strong voice with the prosecutors to stop that revolving door, and I’m going to be in our communities being seen. Those are some good qualities, and that’s who I am, and that’s who I’m going to be.
Q. You’re the only candidate who does not live in Grand Forks. How would your perspective as a resident out in the county help you as sheriff?
A. Living out in the county, I care about the county deeply. I mean, I see a lot of stuff going on out there. And I think that the citizens who live in the rural county, they like having a rural sheriff because that’s ultimately, you know, what the sheriff is meant to be for the county, not just the city of Grand Forks.
As you know, the sheriff’s office doesn’t respond to 911 calls within the city of Grand Forks. That’s Grand Forks Police Department’s primary jurisdiction.
With me being in the rural community, I think I have a good relationship with the citizens, and I see things out there that we need to take care of.