MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Three of Minnesota's county sheriffs are defending their participation in peacekeeping efforts along the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline project.
A total of 40 deputies from Hennepin, Washington and Anoka counties recently returned from the protest lines out in North Dakota, where large crowds of protesters continue to descend on the prairie near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
The protesters are hoping to stop construction of the l,1172-mile long pipeline they contend is a threat to clean water.
Michelle Gross was among those who took their protest to the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday in Minneapolis. They are angry that Hennepin County sent 29 deputies to help keep order on what's become a dangerous and very heated protest line.
Despite not being a meeting for public testimony, the board allowed a handful of protesters to address them, including Gross. She demanded that commissioners bar any further involvement of county law enforcement in the Dakota Access project.
"We are outraged to have that situation in Standing Rock in which protesters and water protectors are being beaten down on behalf of an oil company," she said.
But sheriffs of Hennepin, Anoka and Washington Counties shot back, saying they are obligated to fulfill requests for mutual aid under a long-standing Emergency Management Assistance Compact.
The sheriffs made it clear that the formal request is made between the two states' governors. Two days before the deputies departed for North Dakota, Gov. Mark Dayton approved the request, along with a reimbursement agreement.
Mutual aid was requested by North Dakota because thousands of protesters have overwhelmed very limited local law enforcement resources. In Morton County, the sheriff's department has only 22 sworn deputies.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek called it "the right thing to do," and made it clear that ever since Hurricane Andrew, the mutual aid compact assures law enforcement protection for any form of emergency or disaster.
"There were 400 peace officers from 6 states who responded to their request for assistance," Stanek said.
In their nine-day stay, the 40 Minnesota deputies were involved in 10 arrests. More than 150 arrests have been made on the protest line to date, most for trespassing on private lands and obstruction.
In addition, two previous requests had been turned down because they didn't go through the proper state channels.
"Mutual aid is an important part of what local law enforcement does and we will continue to do so not based on politics but based on the need of the county, city, township or state that needs that request," Stanek said.
The Hennepin County sheriff added that it would be dangerous and damaging not to offer deputies when help is needed.
The reason is, because, when the tables are turned, the Emergency Management Assistance Compact will benefit Minnesota.
Stanek said mutual aid will be used to help protect the 2018 Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
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