WOW! Sort of like being a very small hamster on a very large wheel sometimes…SO… it’s been busy!
By Pat Merriman
Dunn Co. State’s Attorney
Total criminal case filings last year (actual new cases by date of offense NOT by number of counts) totaled 533 individual new cases. Recall that was a 12% increase over 2013’s filing of 476 cases. For 2015, we passed 300 cases early in June, so, it is projected that we will hit 620 cases by December 31st if the pace remains the same. If so, that represents a 16% increase over last year and an almost 30% increase in the last two years. Unfortunately, that almost doubles what was filed as recently as 2011 as well. And, that doesn’t account for assisting the County Commission, traffic, juvenile and mental health cases. I have joked with the Commissioners that maybe I should ask for a budget allotment for a temporary residence in Dickinson to keep up with the increase in court appearances in front of our local District Judges. It seems like I spend more time down there than I do in Killdeer or Manning sometimes. At the end of the day, we have plenty to keep us busy but, Jackie, Ross and I are getting the job done.
The biggest positive about the job are the citizens of Dunn County–hands down! You guys have been very supportive and civil even when we have disagreed about something. Including a 100% conviction rate on the first 3 DUI trials, and 1 felony trial, in recent memory. Also, more people seem to know me and my wife now, so, it gets harder at jury selection to seat a jury who doesn’t actually know me, Selena, Samantha or Stephen personally. I have always liked a small town atmosphere though and, although traffic still seems pretty brisk (particularly with road construction everywhere again), it still ain’t the big city with all the rudeness and violence. Because at the end of the day, although “violent” incidents are creeping up, 56% of our caseload is still DUI and DUS offenses which, of course, put persons/property at risk, but, last year, DUI/DUS comprised almost 62% of the docket and, alcohol-related fatalities here in Dunn County (as well as state-wide) have dropped dramatically. So, our roads are much safer because of the Zero Tolerance policy implemented in 2014. And, we will deal with the domestic violence and illegal drug spike (and other increases) as they come along. At my age, this ain’t my first trip to the rodeo, so, we hunker down and soldier on as my father used to say.
The biggest negative about the job is still politics. You have to develop a thick skin and learn to hold your tongue because you’re the elected officer holder now and, far too often, one’s first instinct when attacked unfairly; usually by someone who does not know all of the facts about a particular matter; is to say, “Oh, yeah, well why don’t you [fill in the blank]”. And, you also have to watch “where” you go or “what” you do because it ain’t, “Hey, did you see Pat over at the Buckskin”, it’s “Hey, did you see that States Attorney over at the Buckskin”. So, no having a beer or doing anything else publicly that could even possibly scandalize the trust the public up here has put in you. Usually, another negative (in my experience) has been the media but, up here, Stacey, Pam and the Dunn County Herald really do listen to both sides of the story and, since it’s a small community, try to get the story right not just cater to an agenda. I guess it doesn’t hurt that I try to get at least 2 submissions in each week to help keep the public informed about events affecting law enforcement and our economy both here, in Bismarck and in Washington, DC. It takes up most of a Saturday but, at my age, I need a hobby and my wife is gone shopping anyway…and I ain’t going shopping [shudder]. So, it fits the bill and I have had more positive responses about my stuff (almost 9-1) which makes me feel good.
Football season will be here in only 3 weeks, so, I am also looking forward to getting back out there on the gridiron, although, each year, I’m a little slower and weaker. But, we all have to suck it up when it comes to that too. It’s a great stress reliever. And, of course, someone sacrificed so I could play in the 1970’s and I feel like I owe it to the game to keep at it as long as I can. Inter-agency cooperation and morale have soared since the 1st of the year and, I want to give a personal thanks to Sheriff Coker, Chief Braathen, Lt. Greg Smith of the NDHP and the fine officers under their command, as well as our Dunn County Board of Commissioners, other local elected officials and the other civic leaders (both at the city and county level) who have made this job a heck of a lot easier for the new guy. It’s nice to serve in a county where the local leadership genuinely has the best interest of the community at heart and…actually makes it possible to do the job you were elected to do. Finally, I want to thank my predecessor/assistant Ross Sundeen who has been an invaluable resource material these first 7 months.
So, to sum up, this has been (and will continue to be) a learning process and, I sincerely appreciate everyone’s patience and cooperation so far. I know that with other local, county and state issues looming on the horizon, we may disagree from time-to-time but, at the end of the day, I’m confident that this county is not losing control to the oil-mania prevailing elsewhere and that level heads will prevail. Thank you for giving my wife, family and I the chance to be an integral part of this community and, in all honesty, I love this job. Stop by the office at American Bank Center and say, “Hi”. Or, see you around Killdeer, Manning, Dunn Center, Halliday or Dodge this football season!