Mike Flannery, Grand Forks County Sheriff candidateHome: Grand Forks
Job: Detective with the Grand Forks Police Department
Family: Widowed with a son and two grandchildren
Education: Four-year criminal-justice degree from UND, police-management training classes at Minot State and Northwestern
Leadership experience: Army infantry officer, field-training officer with the Grand Forks Police Department, second vice president for the local lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police
Q. Why are you running for sheriff?
A. I’m running for sheriff now for the same reasons I did four years ago: I think the department can do more than what it’s doing. I think resources can be shifted, I think work schedules can be shifted, I think outside-the-box type of projects — just get more involved.
The sheriff’s department to me has always seemed to be a department that’s doing a good job with what they are doing, but they’re not stretching. And if you’re not moving forward, you’re stagnating.
So I would like to do more with that department. I’ve got some ideas on what we can do. I would sure be open to other peoples’ ideas, the deputies’ ideas. But just get more involved and try to work at our maximum efficiency to make the department not only run better, but also try to get more accomplished.
Q. What are your ideas?
A. Well, it all comes down to revenue. It’s very easy for any politician to sit down and promise you this, promise you that. But in the case of a federal employee, it all comes down to Congress; and for sheriff, it all comes down to the county commissioners.
You might have the greatest plans in the world, but you can’t afford to do them because the commissioners won’t fund them.
One of the ideas I had was to try to have the sheriff’s department follow the same line that a lot of other agencies are doing. So: If you are arrested right now for something and you do not have enough money to pay for your own attorney, you are appointed one. Now, that’s not free. You have to pay something into the indigent-defense fund. Not obviously the same amount you would have to pay a private counselor, but you have to pay something.
Now, you’re in court, and you’re either found guilty or you plead guilty, you’re going to get a fine. You’re also going to get X number of dollars that you have to pay to the maintenance of the building. You might get assessed a certain amount of dollars to go to the law library. There are some things that the court assesses to you other than the fine.
Now you go to jail, and if you want to get out on a work-release program, you have to pay for that on a daily basis. Some jails across the country are charging you for your room and board. Some departments, in even simple things like taking an accident report — if you’re not a resident of that city, you’re paying for the officer to do the accident report.
So all along the line, you’re having to pay — with the exception of the basic investigation. Now, everybody that I’ve talked to says, ‘Well, these people can’t afford to pay that.’ Well, somehow they pay their fines. Somehow they pay that building-maintenance fee. Somehow they put the money into the law library. Somehow they get enough money to get out on work release. So yeah, the money’s there.
And we’re not talking about a huge amount of money. If I stop someone for driving under the influence, first of all the time is very quantifiable. They know exactly when I checked out with that vehicle, and they know exactly when I walked away from the jail after I’ve locked them up. So you’ve got quantifiable time and you just take that times whatever you figure is reasonable for pay and benefits, maybe $35 or $40 an hour.
A typical DUI for a deputy, I would imagine, might run an hour and a half or two hours. That’s $80. Can the person afford $80? Yeah, because they’re paying that amount in for their fines and everything else. So that money then comes back in as more revenue to the sheriff’s department. You’ve paid for that deputy’s time.
So I think that’s doable. Obviously, you’re going to have to get the judges to go along with it. I would like to talk to them and see if we can come up with something. I had a case with the state’s attorney’s office where a gentleman had lied to us about the crime, and I spent a lot of time investigating it, and the state’s attorney’s office charged him for that time. They said, ‘Give us a bill. How long did you put in on this case and what do you think is a reasonable figure for your time?’ We did that, and he paid it. So there are precedents.
We also — the state’s attorneys office, sheriff’s department — also will occasionally seize a vehicle. I think we should try to maximize seizures on any kind of property that we can. It’s good for the sheriff’s office because the revenue comes back to them and because of the state’s attorney’s office doing it, there’s always a split with the state’s attorney’s office.
So two county departments being able to defray some of their expenses and generate some revenue at the same time, plus it becomes more of a punishment for the person who was found guilty.
I think those two things, we could do with revenue.
Q. How would your life and professional experiences help you if elected?
A. We’ll go back to 1968. The Army told me I was joining them.
When I went into the Army, we took a battery of tests like everybody does. Based on that battery of tests, I was offered West Point. I decided not to take that option because I was 20 years old, and you had to sign a piece of paper that would have locked me up until I was 30. This was awfully scary at age 20. I didn’t take that option.
I did take the option of going to Officers Candidate School. In between that first offer of West Point and officers candidate school, they offered me West Point four more times. Officers Candidate School was exactly that — they trained us to be infantry officers, to make decisions, to think about things, to be leaders, supervision, management, and to do it in a combat environment.
Not everybody who wanted to go to Officers Candidate School got offered the opportunity to go; and of the ones that went, my platoon started out with 40 people. We graduated 18. So it was a relatively tough school.
My first assignment was as a training officer with the basic-training unit. Over the course of time, I was responsible for all the training of 1,000 people. I then went to Vietnam with the 101st Airborne. The unit that I was assigned to was the second of the 506, which doesn’t mean a lot until you realize that that was the unit that the Band of Brothers was about. So I always thought that was neat.
While I was there, I was assigned to battalion staff; and as the night-duty officer and Vietnamese-liaison officer, I basically ran the battalion at night from the time the colonel went to bed until we got up in the morning. So I had the responsibility of calling in mortar strikes, artillery strikes, air strikes, coordinating medevacs, coordinating anybody in the field who got into something that was serious.
I joined the police department in ‘73. I finished my criminal-justice degree. I worked the street — make the traffic stops, make the arrests.
After 15 years in patrol, I get a really good handle on what patrol does. As a senior officer in patrol, I’m backing people up, so I’m seeing a lot — pretty much everything that goes on during the course of a shift, whether it’s a bar fight, domestic disturbance, whatever.
I’m involved in catching burglars. I’m involved in arresting people wanted for kidnapping. I talked a guy off the bridge one day who’s all set to jump; I get him in a car, and 15 minutes later, I’m getting a murder confession out of him.
I mean, I did everything in patrol I think you could possibly do.
They’ve moved me into investigations. I start going to some specialized schools and now I see what patrol doesn’t see. There are some cases that patrol does that they do everything from beginning to end; the most common would be a DUI. I see the guy, I arrest the guy, I lock the guy up, I testify against him in court, that’s done.
But there’s lots of stuff that patrol does that they only open the door on. I take the initial report on the burglary, I’m done with it. I take the initial report on the sexual assault, I’m done with it. On a fraud case, I take it, I’m done with it.
In investigations, we’re the people that come up and take that initial report and work it toward the prosecution — we hope a successful prosecution and the end of the case.
So I’ve seen everything from the smaller stuff to the bigger stuff. I worked a case here in town that the loss was about $120,000, but the FBI used the work I did to crack a case that was worth almost a million.
I’ve worked with FBI, Secret Service, Border Patrol, Marshal Service;, I’ve worked with all those agencies, and I see how everything works together.
With what I learned in the Army and the people I learned it from, my experience on the police department and the specialized training I’ve had, the criminal-justice degree I’ve had, police-supervision classes from Northwestern, I think that I’m an excellent candidate for this.
I’ve done the job. I’ve done it for 37 years. I’ve done a good job at it, and I’ve got the training to back up that experience — management training.
Q. You mentioned changing fines and fees. Anything else you would change?
A. Every organization has a culture, and in that culture are values — things that are important to that culture and things that aren’t. Part of my plan for doing more — and this might be tough, but a goal is always tough. In fact, a goal might even be unattainable, but working toward it can make a better organization.
In any event, I would like to have the employees when they come to work in the morning be excited about coming to work, having pride in themselves and the job they’re doing. When they get to work, I would like them to be totally focused on making the lives of the residents of Grand Forks County better — whether it’s through crime prevention, criminal investigation, selective traffic law in reducing fatalities, any of those things.
And thinking outside the box: “Do you guys have an idea? Let’s talk about it. How can we make it work?”
I would like other departments — sheriff’s departments, police departments, whoever — to start looking toward our department as, “Hey, these guys have got their act together. They’re doing good things. What can we learn from them?”
And the same time, I’m going to be doing the same thing from other agencies. “Is this working for you out there wherever? If so, why? If not, why not?”
And at the end of the shift, I would like these people going home proud of the job they did, realizing they made a difference for the residents. The next day, same thing all over again: I’m excited, we can do more, what can we do better?
That is the culture I’d like to have. Those are the values I would like to have.
Q. What are some of the biggest problems facing the sheriff’s department?
A. Drugs has got to be number one. We still have a methamphetamine problem; we always will. Because of Attorney General (Wayne) Stenejhem’s actions — making people more accountable for buying Sudafed and stuff like that — meth labs are going down. But people are still buying meth that’s made in Mexico and brought up here. So the meth problem isn’t going away even though we have fewer labs.
Overshadowing that lately has been prescription drugs, especially among younger people. There’s a belief among the people in high school and college that if a street drug is bad for you, a prescription drug isn’t because it’s a prescription drug. Well, you know, that doesn’t make sense. But if you don’t understand, it does to you.
We have more and more people in high schools and in colleges: I fall down; I get injured; I get OxyContin; I don’t use all my prescription, and now I sell the rest, and it goes for a nice rate.
We have that problem. That’s a huge, huge problem not only for now, but in the future. We’ve got to tell these kids, “Hey, this guy got this prescription because the doctor thought it would help him. The same prescription for you is not going to help you a bit. It’s going to be a problem.’ And we got to have them realize that selling your doctor prescriptions is just as bad as selling any other drug.
Another main problem the sheriff’s office has to deal with is same at any other county office, and that’s revenue.
Right now, there is no daytime patrol. Some of the other candidates have talked about that, too. And they’ve made the statement, “Well, I’m going to do daytime patrol.”
OK, that’s fine, but how are you going to pay for it? Where are you going to get the people?
We are on a main drug-infiltration route between Mexico and Canada. We’ve got that nice highway coming right up from Mexico, through Texas, all the way up.
During the day, you could transport across Grand Forks County a massive amount of drugs, and you only have to deal with pretty much the highway patrol, if they’re not busy. At some point — and don’t ask me when, because I don’t know — the county commissioners are going to have to fund 24-7 sheriff’s office. We don’t have that right now. The officers get off at 3, 4, 5 o’clock in the morning. They go home, and they’re on call. That’s fine, you’ve got somebody you can get in touch with.
But this is a huge county. You’ve got huge problems with response times, and not only in going to a crime that might be in progress and that’s way over by the time you get there because it’s taken you so long.
If one of the deputies gets in trouble, a backup unit might be 15 or 20 minutes away or more. So you can’t put a deputy out there on patrol during the day and just leave him hanging; you’d have to have at least two people.
You know, I think we need the daytime patrol. If the revenues aren’t there, the revenues aren’t there. That’s why I was looking at other ways that we can maybe generate some money; maybe we can afford one, maybe we can adjust some of the office-schedule people so they can get out there.
Maybe as sheriff, I could do something that would free somebody else up. I’ve been doing financial crimes for 22 years. As sheriff, I don’t see why I couldn’t take a case here or a case there and do a financial crime in conjunction with the management and the supervision of the department and free up a deputy.
I mean, you can maybe do things like that, but I think we need to work toward that.
So what I just said set aside, now comes back on this issue of “more patrol” — I think we need it. And I just think we need to get more involved. We can do more with that department.
If you’re sitting still, you’re stagnating, and you need to move forward. And if everybody comes to work with that attitude that we can do more and look for ways to do it, we will do more, more will get done.
Q. How would approach the problem of meth and drug traffic coming through the county and some of the drugs spilling into the area?
A. If somebody’s driving through the area, and they don’t stop — I mean, this sounds cold and callous, but it’s somebody else’s problem. We’re not helping the situation because we’ve let them drive through our area, but the actual use is on the other end.
The problem is, like you’re saying, some of their product stays here. And I see the problem as twofold: First, the people who are producing meth and using meth, you have to deal with them. Second is the education part where you have to tell these people — and some of them are teenagers, high-school kids — that it’s the most addictive drug in the world.
We need more drug education in the county schools. You can’t expect these kids to pick this up off the street because if they do, they’re picking up the wrong information off the street.
Q. If elected, you would be moving from the police department to the sheriff’s office. What are the advantages and disadvantages of coming in as an outsider?
A. As I mentioned, every organization has a culture and with that culture are values. When you’re part of an organization and have been for a while, that culture is your culture and those values are your values. Could be good, could be bad, but there’s an acceptance.
Now, you get somebody new who comes in; they’re not part of this culture, they don’t have those values, and they don’t have that acceptance. They can sit down and look at how an organization runs and what are the important things and what are the things that are being done that are only being done because they’ve always been done.
One of the things I would like to do within the first week of being sheriff is have every employee sit down — the deputies as well as the civilians — and say here’s a piece of paper for each of you. I want you to write down three things that you think we’re doing a good job at and three things we’re doing a bad job at. If you’ve got more than three, that’s fine, but try to come up with three.
And then you look at those pieces of paper, and you see which one consistently are coming up as good things. Then you look at that program and see why that’s a good program. You don’t just accept it; you ask, why is this working and what can we do more on this program to make it even better?
You also look at those things that show up on the downside — the things we’re not doing well. OK, why are they not working? What parts of this are we doing just because we’ve always done it?
And you look at rules and regulations that are there that people ignore because they realize it’s not important. You eliminate all the junk, so everybody knows that everything in the rules and regs are important.
And that’s the kind of thing an outsider comes in and does because you don’t have that culture, you don’t have that values, and you don’t have that acceptance. You can look it anew and say, yeah, good, bad.
A. The only disadvantage I see is I have spent 37 years in law enforcement, and I have never done anything on the civil side because we don’t do that in the police department. I have made a few calls when people have come in with a problem that they think is criminal, and I’ve looked at it and I said, “You know, I’m pretty sure you’ve got a civil problem, you need to talk to an attorney and if you want, I can send this to the state’s attorney’s office and let them make a decision.”
And they’ve always come back with, “Yeah, we agree with you Mike. It’s a civil problem, not a criminal.”
I haven’t done any of that. That’s new turf for me. We do have on the department — and I mean the sheriff’s department — Sgt. Greg Sampson. Greg teaches the civil process for all the new sheriffs down in Bismarck. He would obviously be my right-hand man on that. I would not only obviously go to those classes, but he’s right there in case I have a question.