Thursday afternoon I got out to the siege of a house outside of a town called Luverne (population 44 on a good day), in Steele County North Dakota (pop. 2,258), just in time to catch the end of it.
There were enough law enforcement officers and firearms to fight a small war it seemed. The Red River SWAT team was out there, called in by Steele County sheriff Wayne Beckman to relieve the Jamestown and Valley City tac teams. I saw Barnes County sheriff Gene Bjerke and Valley City, ND police chief Dean Ross as well.
It ended well, everyone went home.
Not only did the officers not lose any of their own, they didn’t have to kill anyone either, and you could see the relief on their faces.
And this was a very near-run thing. The suspect fired shots from his position and the officers made the decision not to return fire. They had that luxury because they had overwhelming force on their side. There are probably foreign-policy lessons from this, which I won’t beat you over the head with.
Sheriff Beckman, asked by TV news people if this was an average length for a siege, replied good-humoredly, “This is a small little county and it’s not like this happens every day. To me it seemed to take a long time.”
I’ve known rural police and sheriffs in places like Big Bend, Texas and small-town Oklahoma. People think that because bad things don’t happen as much as in the big cities, it must be an Andy Griffith Mayberry sort of job. What gets overlooked is, in large rural areas with low population density, law officers are very often operating a long way from backup. An officer in a hot situation could be twenty or thirty miles from help – if it’s available at all.
Do you know the situations that get the most police officers killed? Drug raids? Bank robberies? Terrorists?
Nope, domestic disturbance calls and routine traffic stops.
This one went well. The local law first contained the threat and called for lots and lots of backup. And in the end all of the good guys went home to their families, the local nut case gets another chance, and I don’t have to point my recorder at a grieving wife or mother and ask stupid questions like, “How do you feel?”
Thanks guys. I know you weren’t thinking of my comfort at the time, but I thank you none the less.