Roland Riemers, Grand Forks County Sheriff candidateHome: Grand Forks
Job: Owner/manager, Affordable Apartments
Family: Married; eight children, nine grandchildren
Education: Associate degree in nursing; Bachelor’s degree in industrial technology, UND; completed one year at UND law school
Leadership experience: Sergeant, U.S. military, 12 years; owner/manager of business, 30 years; vice-chairman, North Dakota Libertarian Party
Q. Why are you running for sheriff?
A. Because I think I can do a better job than the other candidates would do.
Basically, the other candidates are heavy in law experience but not heavy in a broader experience, which I think the sheriff should have — for instance, my background in civil rights and family rights issues and alternative energy.
I’m into space exploration. You name it, I’ve probably been involved in it, where the other sheriff’s candidates have been very narrow and very limited in their life experiences.
I think this gives me a little bit better insight into problems of society and what can be done about improving the situation in Grand Forks County versus just continuing on the way the present sheriff’s department has been going, which really hasn’t been doing very much in the last few years under Dan Hill.
Q. How would your life and work experiences help you, if elected?
A. Well for one thing, I’ve attended UND Law School. I’m a paralegal. I’ve been at the district courts and North Dakota Supreme Court many times on civil-rights issues, family-rights issues, you name it.
I probably have a better understanding of the law, especially on the civil side, than any of the other candidates. I probably have a comparable understanding of the criminal law as the other candidates go.
I have, like I said, been involved in lots of other issues, and I have other concerns that the other candidates don’t have.
I mean, the main platforms that I see them proposing is, “We want to protect you and your families out in the rural area,” which is fine and Jim Dandy — but how do you do it?
You’ve got to set some different priorities, and my priority would be to get out of the civil nature a little bit. For instance, we spend a lot of the deputy time safeguarding the District Court courthouse and sitting back in the courtrooms just listing hour after hour to, say, contested domestic-violence cases. I would go in and suggest to the county commissioners, “Hey, let’s set up a courtroom that’s secure to begin with, so you don’t have to have those deputies sitting back there.” You know, put the judge behind a piece of bulletproof glass if you want to, separate the litigants, put them on video, you name it. But there are ways to physically separate the people who may be having problems without requiring armed guards sitting in back the courtroom — and quite often, there’ll be not just one but two of them, and that’s a lot of wasted personnel for basically nothing, because that’s what’s likely to happen in the vast majority of cases.
I think their time would be better served being out in the county, patrolling, looking for crime, trying to prevent crime.
Q. You attended UND Law School?
A. I went through one year of law school at UND. That was back in 1998.
Q. How did you become interested in law?
A. Well, I was always interested in law. To me, that was the height of achievement, to get into law school. And I gave up a lot to get into law school in 1998; but unfortunately, I was probably too old for it because I disagreed with a couple of the professors, and in law school, you’ve got to go along to get along.
And I was an agitator there. I would disagree, especially on the importance of constitutional law, and some of the professors didn’t like that.
So you’re required to have a 2.0 grade point average, and I came out to about 1.99 which was not enough to carry me through the second year.
I’ve thought about going back again, but I’m having too much fun doing other things. And most of the law-related stuff I want to do, I can do already as a paralegal or representing myself, so it’s not really worth the bother or the hassle it takes to go back to law school. I still might do it one of these days just for the fun of it.
Q. You would need a peace-officer license to be sheriff. How would you handle that?
A. Well, first of all, you’ve got to take a course within, I think, six months on the civil process, just basically how to serve a subpoena and so forth. That’s a quick one-week course.
The main requirement, like you said, is peace-officer registration, which requires a more extensive course and that has to be completed within two years. So I have two years to complete that.
Q. Would you commit to doing that?
A. Yes; obviously, if you want to keep on the job, you have to do so. My only question about the thing is if they really gave me pistol to shoot, I’d probably shoot myself in the foot. (Laughter) I’m a great shot with a rifle, but a pistol — I’d be a hazard to the civil community of Grand Forks.
Q. You’d get training in using a handgun, right?
A. That doesn’t help your natural klutziness. (Laughter)
Q. If elected, do you have any specific plans for the department?
A. Well, I’d also like to see the department get out and have more rural law enforcement, and I think the other candidates kind of feel the same way; only I would be more aggressive at it.
For instance, I’d like to see the department get split up. You’d have the civil division stay in Grand Forks; but you don’t need a lot of deputies running around Grand Forks. Grand Forks already has a police department. The deputies don’t need to be here; they need to be out in the rural areas.
So what I’d like to do is move the criminal division someplace out in the middle of the county — maybe Orr, maybe Northfield, you name it. Have it more centralized in the rural area.
They would also kind of cross each other a little bit. So the criminal division, if you had a subpoena that needed to be served in Northfield, it would take care of that minor thing. And the Grand Forks and the civil division, if they had a criminal problem that came up, they’d stop serving subpoenas for a few hours and do the criminal thing.
But the emphasis should be in crime prevention and crime solving in the rural areas, not in the Grand Forks area where you already have a huge police department.
Another area where I would probably be different than the other candidates, too, as far as changes in the department: I’m a strong believer in trying to rehabilitate criminals. And I would, on a once a week basis, go to the Grand Forks jail, sit down with the prisoners, have lunch with them and talk to them, make sure that they’re having the services and the contact with the professionals they need to kind of straighten out their lives so they don’t end up in jail again repeatedly — because most of these people are going through a revolving door time after time.
Right now, they’re not given adequate services in jail. In fact, the old jail actually was much more open than the new jail, which has gotten fanatic about security.
The other candidates talk about having lunch with school teachers or maybe with the students in the school, which is probably a fine thing to do if you’ve got the time. But I’d like to emphasize actually dealing with people who are having problems with the law, finding out why they’re having those problems and seeing if we can get them some help, so we don’t have problems in the future.
Q. How many times have you run for office?
A. More times than I care to count. My first time was back about 30, 40 years ago in Minneapolis, when I ran for city councilman in northeast Minneapolis.
I tell people, actually, I’ve been fortunate never to be elected, because if I ever get elected, then I’d actually have to do some serious work, which scares me (Laughter).
Interestingly, this is probably the most interesting election I’ve ever been involved in. You have six people. We all probably have an equal chance of getting through the primary. We each have our strengths, we each have our weaknesses; and I’m kind of concerned: “Gee, I’m going to spend four years as sheriff. I’m going to have to give up my easy life I’ve got going now and actually do some real serious work.”
But I’m willing to do that because I think it would be a worthwhile thing to do.
Q. Having run for office so many times and developing a reputation as a gadfly, how can you convince voters that you’re serious candidate?
A. There’s a two-step process in running for office: One, you have to have name recognition. That’s why I’ve got that van running around for the past month.
We’re now getting into the stage in May where we’re actually starting to hit more on issues. Before now, it didn’t really pay because you want to get the name out there first.
We’re planning to hit every city in the county. We probably won’t get to the rural farms very much.
And we’ve got some interesting publicity that we’re going to put out on the issues as we get closer to the election time. I don’t want to get too much out there and allow people to forget.
Right now, I’m working on the name recognition and just having a hell of a lot of fun, too. The more we seem to do it, the more support we pick up.
A lot of people are now coming up to me to wish me luck. I drive down the streets in my crazy little van, people are honking or waving at me a little bit more than they used to, so the message is slowly getting across now that I’ve got the name recognition.
Now, I need to concentrate more on the issues, and quite frankly when we started out here a few months ago, I didn’t have the faintest idea what are the issues for the sheriff’s department. I mean, what does the sheriff even do?
Well, I’ve known Dan Hill for a while, and I haven’t really seen him do too much, so there isn’t a lot of work involved. But what can he do if he really wants to?
So it’s taken awhile just to gel out what are the concerns of Grand Forks County, what the sheriff might be able to do to address those concerns. Now that we’ve kind of gelled those up a little bit, we’ll be pushing them in the next three or four weeks until the election time.
Q. What are some of the big problems facing the county, ones that the sheriff’s department might address?
A. Probably the big concern is rural law enforcement, especially in the small towns. I was talking with one woman the other day where she needed help at her home because there was somebody prowling around the house, and the local police officer, who’s a good guy, he was just so overloaded — he said, “I’ll be there in 20 or 30 minutes.”
And that’s just too long of a response time for the seriousness of the occasion.
So they ended up calling the sheriff’s office. In fact, they called Dan Hill personally, and he had a deputy out there within a few minutes.
So I think rural response and crime fighting is probably a big thing in Grand Forks County when you get out of the city of Grand Forks.
You also have, of course, the problem of drunk drivers. I’m not too impressed with the saturation stops that the departments do. I think there should be smarter and easier ways to catch drunk drivers, and I think a lot of it is just careful observation.
So instead of having, you know, 20 patrolmen sitting at an intersection pulling people off to the side, spread out those officers a little bit, have them watch for behavior that might indicate a drunk driver — you know, maybe they’re being a little sluggish on responding to stoplights or you name it. It’d be more effective than the saturation, in my view.
Another issue — of course, and I don’t know really how serious it is — they’re concerned about drugs, especially meth.
I think a lot of that’s pretty well under control right now. We do have, of course, drugs coming down from Canada to a certain extent. One of the areas where I probably differ a little bit from the other candidates is that I personally, as a Libertarian, would like to see legalization of marijuana simply because we’ve lost that war on marijuana. I think we need to legalize it and patrol it from a legal standpoint, and it would less of a problem and cause less problems with crime, too.
But on the meth problem, I think we’ve got to get it under control, but we also have to use our intelligence resources. And that’s one of the things I wanted to eat lunch at the jail. You get to talk to these guys, they get to know you, and pretty soon they might be giving you a tip here and there: “Hey, you know, if you check on this house down the road here, you might find something interesting.”
Because they owe you a favor, and you owe them a favor. So it kind of works out a little bit.
So if you’ve got good intelligence, you can crack down on these meth houses.
Q. What are your thoughts on the problem of prescription drug abuse?
A. One big problem probably is forging prescriptions in the Grand Forks area. People ain’t got too much smarts to begin with. They get a doctor’s prescription and then they feel like if they scrawl something out, the pharmacist is going to be stupid enough to honor that prescription; and, of course, the next thing they know, somebody’s knocking at their door with some handcuffs for them.
And I’ve seen that happen a couple times to people, and why in the world can they be so stupid.
Probably a bigger problem is people who just get the prescriptions and just abuse them themselves. They’ll go to two or three different doctors to get the same prescription; you name it, no one keeps track of it. They go to different pharmacies.
As far as selling them to friends and what not because they’ve got a surplus: It’s hard for law enforcement to really track these people down because it’s not a commercial enterprise. I mean, you’re not setting up a big dealership. So your chances of getting a lead on something like that are pretty slim.
And if you just stumble across it, you might find that you can’t effectively address that problem using the tools of in law enforcement. It’s more of a medical-social problem, I think.
Q. Do you have any ideas to save money or raise revenue for the department?
A. Well, we should seriously look at the current policy of taking squad cars home all the time. I’ve seen too many squad cars parked in too many areas around town where I’m wondering what they’re doing there. And there’s probably some abuse going on there.
I’m not really convinced that it’s cost effective to have these deputies run around all the time in the county cars just because, hey, they might be on call.
So I would look at the issue of taking squad cars home — if they’re really needed for that. And the squad cars themselves — do we really need great big SUVs for someone to go out and serve summons and complaints or something like that? Maybe we should be looking at electric vehicles or something like that, especially for the civil division.
And as far as the sheriff’s cars go, maybe if we didn’t decorate them up like a Taj Mahal with “Sheriff” all over them — maybe if we used some type of laminated sticker on a conventional car — then the resale value of that car would be a lot more. And we’d pay less up front, too, because those paint jobs are not cheap.
The sheriff’s department’s budget actually is fairly modest for what they do and what they cover, so I can’t see any drastic cuts on that.
They do have, you know, some minor things. They have a Sheriff’s Day once a year. I have never attended one. I didn’t even know they had one, so I looked at the annual report and wondered, “What do we got that going on for?”
I would probably look at duty hours, things like that. Is an eight-hour shift really the best thing to do in the rural area if you’re driving out to a rural area? Would a 12-hour shift work better? I guess I’m open-minded enough I’d look at all the options of what we can do effectively and not just say, “Hey, we’ve been doing this for the past 50 years, we’ve got to continue doing this for another 50 years.”
But other than that, there isn’t a lot of fat in this department. A few things could be done a little bit better.
Q. Is there anything in your past that would make voters confident in your ability to hold a leadership post and supervise people?
A. You know, as far as the sheriff’s position goes, it’s actually somewhat of an advantage not to have all the experience because when I go in there, everybody in the department isn’t going to be the buddy I’ve known for the past 30 years.
They’re all going to be treated equally. They’re all going to have to show that they can do the job. It’s not going to be, “Hey, I’ve been over to have dinner with you and your wife for the last, you know, 20 years, and I don’t care what you do, just keep doing it because your job is secure.”
As a newcomer on the block, too, I’d also be more open to what the other deputies have to say. You know, if you’ve been in law enforcement for the past 30 years, you’ve gotten good habits and bad habits, and chances are you don’t know the difference. But in my case, I’m willing to listen to even the youngest deputy on the department and say, “Hey, what’s your ideas? How can we do this thing better? Let’s think outside the box a little bit.”
As far as running any kind of an organization, that’s pretty much standard skills. I run my own business in town, and I do it quite successfully. And I don’t know if you really have to have a lot of experience in law enforcement to run a law-enforcement agency. Look at the head of the Department of Homeland Security; she’s a former governor, how much experience did she have before running the largest enforcement agency in the country?
How much experience did Obama have in running the military before he became president? I mean, sometimes you need a broader experience to really get the job done.
Q. In the past, you’ve been critical of local government agencies, the judicial system and the Community Violence Intervention Center in Grand Forks. These are entities the sheriff’s department works closely with now. If elected, how would you build and maintain relationships with these entities?
A. Well, I actually have good relationships with a lot of the people in Grand Forks County government, you know. Even though I criticize the judicial system at times, I’m on a first-name basis with some of the judges and referees over there; and when I meet them out at a restaurant, they’ll be “Hey Roland, how you doing?” type of thing.
On the other hand, respect has to be earned, and there are some other judges I know who probably shouldn’t be there, and I’m not afraid of saying that — although when I’m before them I treat them civilly. They are judges, and you got to treat them that way.
In regards to the CVIC, they do do the training on domestic violence for the various departments. And my big complaint with them is because they’re too gender-biased.
If I were sheriff, I’d still allow them to do training, but I’d want them to straighten up their act a little bit where it’s completely gender-neutral, which probably shouldn’t be too hard as it just calls for changing their mindset a little bit.
That’s so we’re sure that the deputies go out there and are involved in domestic disputes, they’re acting in a constitutional and legal manner and not just by what happens to be the current rules of political correctness.
I’m willing to work with any organization in town, but I’m not afraid of criticizing if I don’t think they’re doing their job. Most people are doing their job, so it shouldn’t be a problem.