Sheriff Dingman gives update on sheriff’s office to Morris City Council

***Editor’s note: due to an error in printing, this story did not print in full in the 2/20 edition of the Stevens County Times, and will be printed in full in the 2/27 issue.***

Stevens County Sheriff Jason Dingman came to the Morris City Council meeting on Feb. 13 to report a general update about the sheriff’s office roughly a year and a half since the City of Morris contracted with Stevens County for policing services.

“It’s almost unbelievable how smoothly it’s gone,” said Dingman. The process was a sizable undertaking for both the city and county, but both entities worked together to develop a good product, he added. “There have been some growing pains,” he clarified, but all internally, and all that were to be expected during this type of change, he said, while adding that the only change he hopes the citizens of Morris have noticed are the colors of the uniform and not the services provided. Dingman says he has not received any complaints, and urged the council members to share any they might hear with him. 

Essentially, the size of the sheriff’s office was doubled. The structure of the office is Sheriff Dingman, Chief Deputy Jason Reed, a sergeant, two investigators, and eight deputies, which adds up to 13 full-time licensed officers. Additionally, there are two transport deputies, who are full-time licensed but work on a part-time basis, an administrative assistant, two records managers, an emergency management director, communications manager, four full-time dispatchers, and two part-time dispatchers. Since the contract began, the department has added seven additional staff, six deputies and one records manager, to achieve this structure. The sergeant and one investigator were additional roles added since the beginning of the contract, and those were positions promoted from within the office.

Dingman reports that since August of 2022, the additional positions created were filled immediately, and three of the six new deputies needed were police officers with the City of Morris. Since then, one is still a deputy with the county, one went to work for the University of Minnesota Morris public safety, and one was let go during the probationary period due to lack of meeting standards. One of the existing deputies went to work for the state patrol, but is still in the area. The positions that have opened have been filled quickly, he says, and compared to the 260 agencies in the sate with vacancies, Stevens County has had little problem with filling vacancies, which he hopes will continue.

Dingman said that when the discussions of partnering the county with the city began, there was a question of whether they would provide 24-hour coverage. “To be brutally honest, I didn’t know what was feasible,” he said, but they are able to provide 24-hour coverage, and a minimum of two deputies at all times. The shifts are 12 hours, and every three months, day and night shifts switch so no one gets burned out on one shift. If there are only two on shift, since it has the highest population in the county, one deputy will stay in and around Morris, and the other will be patrolling around the county. The city is also now paying less for policing services, with the same amount or better coverage, he says, while also getting rid of a significant amount of liability.

Dingman also reported how he views that the City of Morris has benefited from this contract. He says that between himself and Chief Deputy Reed there are 52 years of combined law enforcement experience. “I think it speaks to the fact that we have a well established and respected sheriff’s office,” said Dingman, “Our investigators are seasoned and well-trained.” 

Sometimes overlooked is emergency management, Dingman added, which is under the umbrella of the sheriff’s office, and the director of that department is Dona Greiner. “I’d feel comfortable saying that she’s one of the best emergency management directors in the state,” he says.

In 2023, they tallied 8,002 incident case reports (ICR). Dingman added that that figure gives a snapshot of how busy the office is by providing the number of ICRs from 2021, which was the last full year with both the police department and sheriff’s office, which was 8,300.

Council member Jeff Miller asked Dingman if patrol focuses more heavily on the school in Morris during the higher traffic times of morning and afternoon, to which Dingman responded that they certainly try to. Miller added that he has seen and heard that there is a lot of speeding and potentially dangerous driving that occurs on Columbia Avenue during those times.

Council member Kim Gullickson said that some of the complaints she used to hear were about the high turnover rate of the police department, but now, there’s with the larger staff and lower turnover rate, there is potential for the already established level of expertise to grow.  “I appreciate the amount of time and energy this has taken,” she added.

Mayor Kevin Wohlers said that he thinks the biggest losers with drawbacks in law enforcement are the youth. “Teen suicides are up across the country, it’s a sad statistic,” he said, “I want to challenge you to think of new ways to engage with our youth.” Dingman responded that they are always trying to come up with ideas, and that his team of deputies come up with many ideas that they explore and are exploring.

The council accepted and awarded one of five bids received for the Morris Transit Garage addition and remodeling project. Bids ranged from $866,000 to $1.3 million dollars. The contract was awarded to Nor-Son Construction for their $866,000 bid. The project will consist of converting one of the existing five bays into an office, adding on to the west end of the garage, and adding two more bays plus a bay that will be a park and wash. With some additional grant funds, an electric bus stall could be added.

Other business considered by the council were the acceptances of two donations. One from Rose Marie Abbot to the Morris Fire Department in the amount of $25.00 and the other from the Morris Hockey Association to go towards the ADA accessible park swing in the amount of $750.00.

Brandy Mohr was appointed to the tourism board.

$7,500 was authorized for tourism spending on kids games and fireworks for the 2024 Prairie Harvest Fest, which was also declared as the official city community event, as in years past.

The American Federation of State, County and Municpal Employess (AFSCME) general labor unit and public works contracts were approved.