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Kenmare police department places focus on community policing

May 11, 2019
Kenmare's Assistant Chief Christopher Almlie and Police Chief Allisha Britton stand next to one of the department's vehicles April 8, 2019 in Kenmare, N.D. (Jill Schramm/Minot Daily News via AP)

KENMARE, N.D. (AP) — Community policing means lunching with kids at the school, giving sober rides after bar hours and sharing stories with the truckers and staff at the local Cenex. It’s also trading the badge for a medical responder title when there’s an ambulance run and feeling the community’s pain when arson strikes a city landmark.

Community policing is important to Kenmare’s two-person police department. The department consists of a transplanted California mom as chief and a multi-lingual assistant chief raised in Asia, but the officers are fully bonded to their small Ward County community.

Police Chief Allisha Britton and Assistant Chief Christopher Almlie say their complementary strengths help them cover all the bases in serving their adopted community.

“The town is a good fit for us. He and I work very well together and complement each other’s skills and abilities,” Britton told the Minot Daily News.

“We see this as a long-term lifestyle — not a job or a career,” Almlie said.

Britton’s boyfriend had family in the Kenmare area, so with jobs more plentiful in North Dakota, they moved from California in 2013. She had graduated from the University of Phoenix with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration in 2012. She joined the then four-member Kenmare police force in 2014. She was promoted to sergeant in January 2016 and became chief last August.

Almlie came to Kenmare at the encouragement of a friend who had moved to the area.

Almlie had lived in Bangkok, China, and Seoul, Korea, where he had been born on an Army base. His father works for the U.S. State Department. He came to the United States in 2009 and earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology with an emphasis in criminal justice from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. Since his familiarity was with big cities, it was a major change to come to Kenmare, population 1,096, in November 2015.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “It sounded like a great dynamic. Instead of getting a badge number, you get to be an actual individual officer interacting with the community.”

Almlie knows multiple languages — from the Korean that is his mother’s native language to other languages of Thailand and the Philippines. He drew on his knowledge of Mandarin Chinese during a traffic stop.

The department deployed Almlie for a few months to assist during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, while Britton covered his shifts on the then three-person force.

Although city budget constraints have since reduced the size of the department to two, Britton estimated the department responds to about 200 calls a month.

The demands of being so often on call feel less demanding because of the close relationships they’ve developed through their involvements with the community, they said. Almlie said speaking at the high school’s junior-senior banquet, serving in a fund-raising dunk booth or dressing up as the Easter Bunny or Santa are among the enjoyable aspects of the job.

“We do it all here, from social work to a taste tester for chili, programming DVRs to chasing dogs in the street or trying someone’s cookies,” Almlie said.

“We see more and more of the community policing fading away in some areas, and we definitely want to maintain that,” he added. “That’s what allows a better bond of trust between us and the community. Without that, we will never be able to solve crimes possibly. You will never be able to have that proper interaction. You lose out on a lot.”

Britton said she has worked to create a stronger relationship between the department and the community. As a woman and mother of five, she feels she brings a different mindset and approachability as police chief.

“When I first started in 2014, they weren’t doing any activities in the school,” Britton said. “I have definitely aimed toward changing that.”

Britton and Almlie utilize Facebook as a tool to stay in touch with their community, share information and take feedback. In May, they started a cooperative program with the Berthold and Stanley departments in which people can provide anonymous tips via a website or Facebook link or through mobile app.

They hope the new tool generates leads on an arson fire, which damaged the community’s Danish Mill in January. A reward fund has been established. Minot Air Force Base personnel have offered services to help with repairs on the mill, which are to start as soon as weather permits.

Kenmare City Council member Jamie Livingston said the city is happy to have two officers who have been able to strengthen a department that had been in some disarray.

“They have worked hard to turn things around,” he said.

The department hasn’t been without its struggles, though. Livingston noted the city has had to adjust to a two-person force that no longer can provide around-the-clock coverage, and the two young officers have had to respond to situations without the benefit of extensive law enforcement experience or training under more veteran cops.

“But their passion for Kenmare and keeping the community safe is there,” he said.

Britton and Almlie are cross-deputized with the Ward County Sheriff’s Department to be able to assist on calls in the county’s gooseneck. They also assist Renville, Mountrail and Burke counties.

“It makes a good working environment to be able to maintain those relationships,” Almlie said.

Britton said relationships with area departments were weak when she took over as chief, but she and Almlie have reached out to strengthen those connections. The department is organizing an area SWAT training course with a grant from the veterans club.

Britton and Almlie also serve as emergency medical responders on the ambulance squad, and Almlie is on the volunteer fire department. They carry medical bags in their vehicles because they often are the first on a scene.

The medical calls are in addition to calls for stray dogs, domestic disputes, assaults and traffic incidents that take a good share of law enforcement’s time in a small town.

“We are spread thin in an attempt to do all of it,” Britton said.

But they also have come to know everybody in town, which gives them a good feeling.

“It’s more than I ever envisioned — being part of a community,” Almlie said. “I never thought I would be going out on Valentine’s Day and giving out baggies to kids of stickers and candy.”

It’s definitely a fun job at times, Britton agreed.

“It’s very important to make the best of it,” Almlie added. “Law enforcement, as well as any first responder’s job, is stressful, and a lot of us are stubborn to not get help, so it’s important for us to maintain that good relationship with our community so that they are almost like a therapy for us — to know there’s still good, and there’s still positive interaction.”

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Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com