Oil Pipeline Protests

Tents and vehicles dot the Sacred Stones Overflow Camp, near the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota, last month. 

The Dane County Sheriff’s Department has sent 10 deputies to the site of ongoing protests over a controversial oil pipeline in North Dakota that a Native American tribe says threatens tribal land.

The deputies are part of a contingent of 40 members of Wisconsin law enforcement that have gone to help out in the area.

The weeklong deployment of members of the Sheriff’s Office’s Special Events Team came after North Dakota issued an emergency request for assistance from other states to help with crowd control at protest sites, which have drawn thousands to Morton County, North Dakota, over the past few months, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said Monday.

Mahoney said he and law enforcement officials from other states were in North Dakota about a month ago talking about crowd control experiences, and Mahoney discussed his department’s experience with the protests against Act 10, Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation, in 2011 and those surrounding the shooting death of black teenager Tony Robinson by a white Madison police officer last year.

“My role is public safety,” Mahoney said, “protecting people’s right to assemble, ensuring a safe environment for everyone.”

Mahoney said he’s “very cognizant of the concerns that the community has” about the issues surrounding the North Dakota protests, but it’s important that well-trained deputies and supervisors are there to practice the values-based policing for which they’ve been trained.

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“There are issues that individuals may have a strong belief in,” Mahoney said, “but we do our job based on public safety.”

Protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline have been ongoing near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, since Energy Transfer Partners began work on the 1,170-mile pipeline that is expected to carry oil from North Dakota to Illinois, via South Dakota and Iowa. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation the pipeline passes near as it goes beneath the Missouri River, is fighting the pipeline in court. The tribe also says that construction has disturbed sacred sites.

In August, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple issued an emergency declaration for parts of the state in response to the protests, allowing additional money for state agencies there related to the protests.

Under the agreement to provide help, Mahoney said, all of Dane County’s expenses will be covered by North Dakota, including overtime costs back in Madison for people who have to fill in for those who are out of state. It’s not an uncommon arrangement, he said. Currently, there is a call for out-of-state law enforcement help in Florida due to Hurricane Matthew, and such help has been used after other catastrophes, like Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Mahoney said the State Patrol, the state Department of Natural Resources and sheriff’s departments in Rock, Marathon and St. Croix counties are also contributing personnel. A Facebook post by Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier puts the number from Wisconsin at 40, but implies that all are from Dane County. Mahoney said that’s the state total.

“Dane County’s experience with large-scale demonstrations will allow for their seamless integration with our current mission of ensuring the safety and security in Morton County,” Kirchmeier wrote.

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