Dunn County State’s Attorney, Pat Merriman, led Thursday night’s Drug Task Force meeting to discuss the options for the community in regards to the “drug epidemic.”
By Savannah Havelka
For the DC Herald
SA Merriman suggested creating three committees to help in the efforts to address and reduce the drug activity in Dunn County. The suggested committees included a committee led by local employers in our county to implement voluntary pre-employment background checks and drug testing, as well as, random drug testing at their businesses; a legislative action committee to get a treatment center in or around Dunn County to help in the effort of a treatment plan mindset rather than an incarceration plan mindset; and the third committee to help aid Social Services and their need for foster homes for children caught in the middle of an unfortunate situation.
A committee led by local employers to implement voluntary background checks and drug testing would not only educate local businesses about the importance of these practices, but also help stand as a unified front in the zero tolerance standard. A criminal background check is open to anyone in North Dakota and can simply be done using their Internet browser. By visiting “http://publicsearch.ndcourts.gov/default.aspx” anyone can perform a “North Dakota court records search.” This search will reveal any unlawful activity in every county in North Dakota. That website is maintained by North Dakota Supreme Court and is absolutely free. To search a potential new hire’s entire criminal record an employer would use records kept by the ND BCI, North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation. This report includes arrests, prosecutions, incarcerations, convictions, dismissals and dispositions relating to felony and misdemeanor charges. These records can be requested by anyone in the state since North Dakota is an “open records” state. However, this report will be limited to a three-year time frame; anything prior to three years will not be included in the report. The report also does not reveal juvenile records, dismissed charges, acquittals older than three years, traffic records, or incarceration records older than three years.
In order for an employer to gain these records they need to follow a 5- step process: first, download the Non-Criminal Justice Request for Criminal History form from the Attorney General’s website, www.ag.nd.gov/BCI/CHR/ NDCHRRequest.html. Next, fill out the form, making sure the name and two identity pieces of information are correct, as only exact matches will be returned. Identity pieces that can be used include date of birth, social security number, or state ID number. Also needed is a signed authorization from the potential hire whose record is being searched. And finally, the BCI will mail a printed report to the employer within 10 days. A fifteen-dollar expense and a single form filled out by the potential hire at time of application is a simple process when the safety of your business is at hand. The BCI can be of help and can be reached at (701) 328-5500.
The second task performed by employers to ensure the safety of their establishment is drug testing at the time of hire as well as throughout the duration of the individual’s employment. The question of cost has been raised when discussing this implementation. The reality is that drug testing costs less than $50 per test. However, what is the true cost of NOT doing pre-hire testing as well as random drug testing? In North Dakota there are only two requirements for employer-mandated drug testing: the employer must pay the cost of the test and in workers’ compensation cases, if an employee is involved in an accident or injury, and the employer or physician has reasonable grounds to suspect that the incident was caused by impairment due to alcohol or drugs, any employee who either tests positive or refuses to take a drug test forfeits the right to benefits. This being said, an employer has much more to loose if they do NOT drug test rather than opt in to drug testing their employees. Drug testing saves an employer money, because the “risks for employers who do not leverage drug testing include higher turnover.” According to a study done in 2007 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration people who abuse drugs change jobs as often as three times a year; showing they hold no true employer loyalty. Therefore, as presented in Thursday night’s meeting, by avoiding the hire of a drug abuser, through drug testing, actually SAVES the employer money by NOT “spending more on recruiting, hiring and training.” Results from an SHRM poll shows that organizations that implemented drug testing saw a 16% decrease in employee turnover.
Next, SA Merriman suggested a committee to build awareness for the need of a treatment center. This may seem to some as a lofty goal for our small community, but the reasons behind the formation of this committee hold some good points.
For instance, when a drug abuser is turned into the police department and needs to seek treatment for their issue, the county must provide assistance in this service. In order to do that, the county has five choices for Inpatient Rehab facilities in North Dakota: Towner County Medical Center in Cando, ND; Prairie Saint Johns in Fargo , ND; Meritcare South University in Fargo, ND; North Dakota State Hospital in Jamestown, ND; or Trinity Addiction Services in Minot, ND. The closest of these is Trinity Addiction Services in Minot, ND; 134 miles away. Think of the transportation time alone when escorting these individuals to and from treatment and court hearings. Our county is utilizing its valuable resources in transporting them back and forth when they should be in our own county keeping our residents safe.
The duty of the law enforcement is to serve and protect their communities and county, they aren’t able to do this when they are being chauffeurs to drug abusers in custody. This proposed treatment center doesn’t absolutely need to be within Dunn County, but somewhere closer to the drug abuse problem we are facing here in Western North Dakota.
This committee will have and encourage the treatment mindset rather than an incarceration mindset. This mindset change will help our county have a lasting result rather than a band aid result when looking at incarceration for drug abusers.
Especially with jail space at capacity in many areas and an estimated 39% increase in needed space if an incarceration mindset continues.
A few possibilities were briefly discussed as to where to have this low security establishment for treatment.
A few brainstormed ideas were using man camps, Dickinson’s empty St. Joseph’s Hospital or empty clinic. This committee would lead awareness for the need of this type of facility and contact appropriate officials to help engage in the process of forming this type of facility.
The final committee proposed was a committee to help aid Social Services in educating the community about the desperate need for foster homes for children caught in a very unfortunate situation. These children found when making drug arrests are brought to Social Services to be put into a temporary foster home, and into a safer environment. However, as shared at the meeting on Thursday night, there are zero foster homes in existence in Dunn County. This is a tragedy for these children. Not only are they removed from their families they now have to travel to another county to find a safe place to find comfort. Social Services is continually working to find the best placements available for these children, but there simply is a very large shortage of foster homes to place these children. These children are innocent bystanders in unfortunate situations before being rescued by Social Services. This committee will help in the education of the community for the need for foster homes as well as education to students about drug abuse to help prevent the drug abuse cycle that too many children fall into when experiencing their parents and families abuse drugs.
Again, the reason for these committees is to “get in front of the drug issue” while we still can. These committees, run by local Dunn County residents, will create a unified front against this increasing issue of drug abuse. SA Merriman has offered to assist in the guidance of the committees, especially during the initial formation of each committee. He will not become chair of any of the proposed committees to help his availability to all committees as well as other community tasks. If interested in helping in the aid and formation of these committees contact SA Merriman at 701-764-5933.