'Everybody has different assets': UND police, other agencies come together to solve cases

Mar. 31—GRAND FORKS — While their job typically involves patrolling around the campus, UND police officers also are tasked with heading a little farther west each day — the Grand Forks airport. That's why, on Saturday, March 25,

the UNDPD collaborated with other agencies to search for a missing person whose vehicle was found wrecked there.

The previous day, March 24, the Grand Forks Police Department had been in a pursuit of a Chevrolet Silverado for several minutes before suspending the chase due to safety concerns.

The Silverado was found stuck in a snowbank on airport property later that day. Its driver, Tyler James Richard Smith, was nowhere to be found.

Family members reported Smith missing and, the next morning, the UNDPD, GFPD, Grand Forks County Sheriff's Office and members of Grand Forks Airport Fire set out on a search for him. After several hours, Smith was found dead. Authorities have not yet released a cause of death.

"In this case, it was multiple agencies involved, right, because ... the person was initially stopped by the city Police Department," said UNDPD Police Chief Rodney Clark. "Then he goes on to another jurisdiction — which is our jurisdiction — wrecks his truck and then flees on foot from there. So that's how we became involved."

Regardless of the defined areas of jurisdiction, law enforcement agencies in the Grand Forks area often collaborate with each other, Clark said. In North Dakota, there are mutual aid agreements between agencies that allow them to assist each other — even outside of an agency's jurisdiction.

Clark said the UNDPD routinely works with its joint partners. The agency most often collaborates with the GFPD and Sheriff's Office, but also works with the North Dakota Highway Patrol at times.

Collaboration between agencies happens for a number of reasons. On March 25 a significant factor — aside from the multiple jurisdictions — was equipment.

"Everybody has different assets," Clark said.

In the search for Smith, the GFPD utilized snowmobiles, the sheriff's office brought an airboat and the UNDPD went up in a helicopter.

"This happens a lot in rural situations where not all police departments have the same equipment, so we have to share." said Clark.

Another factor in multi-agency responses may be staffing levels.

"If somebody's short ... on staff, they could request assistance from another agency," Clark said.

The UNDPD, though, has had a full staff — 19 law enforcement officers — for around six months. Two officers will be leaving soon, but Clark said new hires are already lined up.

"Staffing hasn't been an issue for us as much as other law enforcement agencies in the area. We've been fortunate to be able to keep people," Clark said.

The UNDPD routinely patrols the airport because UND has its own flight operations center on the property, according to Clark.

"We'll drive out there periodically, you know, once a day, sometimes more than that," Clark said.

There are at least two officers on patrol during any given 12-hour shift at the UNDPD, and one of them checks the property sometime during their shift.

From campus, it takes about 20 minutes to get to the airport, Clark said. When there's a 911 call, this can make for a lengthy response time.

"Even going faster than the speed limit, if an officer came from campus, it's — I would estimate — about a 10-minute response time," Clark said.

If there's an emergency call and someone from another law enforcement agency is closer to the airport, they may respond first, even though it's not in their jurisdiction.

Clark said this could be someone from the Highway Patrol or Sheriff's Office, because both departments routinely have deputies out in the field.

Emergencies don't happen at the property often, though, according to Clark.

The airport is the main property within UNDPD's jurisdiction that's detached from the campus. However, UND researchers sometimes work off-campus, and the UNDPD may have jurisdiction over those properties.

"It depends on what it is," said Clark. "I also run the safety side of the department ... so we have people going [to those properties] sometimes and checking on the safety operations."