Grants received by the West Fargo Police Department play a huge role in the yearly operation, saving thousands of dollars in officer salaries and equipment expense that otherwise would have to be funded directly from the department budget or go without.
West Fargo Assistant Police Chief Mike Reitan, who serves as grant director for the department, said West Fargo intensified its participation in the grant process approximately 15 years ago when grants for hiring new officers first became available.
Consequently, applying for and receiving them becomes extremely valuable, sometimes meaning the difference between hiring or not hiring, especially when extra staff is needed but budget restraints do not allow for it.
The most recent grant was for $408,000 received from the U.S. Department of Justice COPS Program in late 2011 to be spent over the next three-year time frame for additional staff.
Other grants are also a department mainstay, including North Dakota Department of Transportation allocations that divvy out funding for overtime hours for officers for impaired driving and seatbelt enforcement; and U.S. Department of Justice Assistance grants utilized in conjunction with Fargo and Cass County needs.
Surplus military equipment is also there for the asking through the Defense Reutilization Materials Supply program resulting in used equipment at no charge at all, much of it in the communication area.
"As I walk around the office, there are a number of items I can tap that we picked up as a grant or transfer," Reitan said pointing out a variety of radio technology.
There are also a number of items that Reitan applies for with the idea of sharing with other local law enforcement jurisdictions, mentioning the portable radio tower Cass County officials have used a number of times during the flooding and at the Red River Valley Fair.
"Grants like the most recent one received, allows us to build our force and not be concerned with paying the salaries over the next couple of years," Reitan stated. "Because of the grant, we are able to fill an officer position without having to take money out of our annual operating budget. This becomes extremely important because as the city continues to grow we need to come up with extra dollars to cover the expense of new personnel. The grants provide a very valuable outlet in that regard."
Reitan said he always has to weigh the value and the time factor when applying for grants. "It's fun, it's like a puzzle and it's not unlike regular police or detective work in that you need to take many pieces and assemble them to come up with a finished product."
"One thing I look at when applying for grants is how it is going to benefit the department and I always ask 'is it something we truly need?' That's what controls me. I think there is a level of responsibility in all of that. If I didn't need to increase our staff I wouldn't apply.
"Personally, I want to get the most out of the monies we have available," Reitan added. "We are all taxpayers and need to be mindful of that. For me to apply and take some burden off the city, I see that as a bonus."
In that regard, the positions of the three newest officers in the department dating back to 2010 were made possible in part, thanks to the department being awarded grants; Rex Johnson is the most recent police officer hire in 2011, preceded by Dustin Manecke and Jorge Gonzalez.
Originally from Mobile, Ala., Johnson spent ten years in the Marine Corps, starting at age 22. After being discharged, he returned to Mobile, and attended the police academy.
His wife, Tracie, transferred to Fargo for her employment in December of 2009. "We had never lived in the Midwest," Johnson stated, "but we had heard great things about the Fargo-Moorhead area."
So when they relocated with their two sons, Ashton and Taylor, Johnson immediately set out to find work.
A first stop was the West Fargo police website. He filled out an application and was notified they weren't hiring. A few months later a position opened up. He went through the application process again, this time successful, and after completing North Dakota certification requirements started night shift patrol officer duties where he is learning his way around in anticipation of assuming one of the temporary rotating positions in Investigations.
Johnson said that since his hiring, everything has been working out well. "It's phenomenal and a great department. Everyone is well-rounded. I love it. The people have so many good things to say about West Fargo, and everyone that works here says what a great place it is to work."
He noted that the community and the position have been pretty much what he expected. "The people are so nice here and everyone that I've had any sort of interaction with has been great. I've visited a lot of places - Hawaii, Californian, North Carolina, etc. - but by far the people in this area are the nicest and most genuine. You just don't see that in the south."
"I loved the Marine Corps and am very proud of my service, but I don't regret leaving it to do this. I feel it is equally rewarding. Just the daily accomplishments with police work provides a great feeling every day. We get to interact with everyone, medical, 911 calls, traffic stops, and we get to meet everybody. I am really happy here, and glad things worked out the way they did."
Dustin Manecke is a Fosston, Minn. native graduating from high school there before enrolling at Hibbing Community College where he spent a year studying law enforcement before transferring to the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, where he earned his Criminal Justice degree in 2008. He went on to complete his three month skills program at the Lake Region day college in Fargo, graduating in August of 2008 receiving his law enforcement license.
In March of 2009 he accepted employment at the Cass County Jail staying there until December when he was hired by the West Fargo department.
Manecke said being hired on was like a dream come true. "It was something I wanted to do since as young as I could remember. I always looked up to police officers and thought it an interesting career that not everyone could achieve."
On that note, Manecke said he always tried to stay out of trouble while in grade school close with his sights set toward being a cop. "I worked hard and finally made it," he added proudly.
He is currently working the night shift and oversees the Coffee With a Cop program, after serving as an assistant with officer Shane Orn since last May.
Manecke makes his home in West Fargo with his wife, Sarah.
He is a member of the Fraternal Order of Police and enjoys helping out however he can at their local events.
As for working for the West Fargo department, Manecke said "it's been a great opportunity. They are always pushing you to be better by setting your goals high. I really like working here and I hope to spend many more years. I work with some really good people. From the time I started the patrol, the guys all the way through have been really good to help out. Everybody's got your back. You never have to worry about being left out there alone."
Gonzalez is originally from Guayaquil, Ecuador and lived in Clearwater, Fla. before moving to North Dakota in 1998. He earned his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. His wife is also a University of North Dakota alumnus and is currently working for Sanford Health.
Gonzalez started his Law Enforcement endeavor by attending and graduating from the Hillsboro County Police Academy in Tampa, Fla. and later attending Police Officer training in Bismarck, N.D.
In January of 2010, he was hired by Chief Arland Rasmussen at the West Fargo Police Department as a fulltime Patrol Officer and is currently assigned to overnight shift. Additionally, he stated that he enjoys being a member of the West Fargo Police Department and feels very fortunate to be of service to the citizens and visitors of West Fargo.
Singling out his co-workers he said, "Within the department, the working relationship is wonderful, we are close and the support system in excellent." Gonzalez added that the region's interagency working relationship is great and working in cohesion makes all of us very efficient and effective. Agency rivalry is a large issue in Florida and he is glad is not that way here.
He also likes the small town atmosphere West Fargo affords. "A big part of my position is community involvement and trying to wear different hats. I like the cohesion of the small community and the quality of people here. Their nature is really welcoming and the family values in North Dakota are great."