ST. PAUL—Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says he was not playing politics when he did not pass on a North Dakota request for law enforcement officers to help at a pipeline dispute.
"I contend that this situation was made extremely 'political' well before it was brought to my attention," Dayton said in a Tuesday, March 21, letter to the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association, which objected to Dayton's decision. "North Dakota's and the pipeline company's responses to the dispute created a highly charged, very public confrontation, which has engaged two presidents' administrations, numerous national organizations and an extremely polarized political environment."
Dayton's letter was to Executive Director James Franklin of the sheriffs' group. In an earlier letter to Dayton, Franklin decried the governor's decision as political and he claimed Dayton intentionally did not publicly reveal North Dakota's request.
"Unfortunately, your decision has set a very regrettable precedent here in Minnesota, and perhaps even beyond our state's borders," Franklin wrote last week.
Franklin said Democrat Dayton's decision could force states to draw up a new agreement for states to provide assistance to each other "devoid of political influence and which focuses strictly on public safety issues."
The Dakota Access Pipeline construction project in south-central North Dakota has drawn international attention. In the United States, division mostly has been along party lines, with Democrats opposed to a pipeline section near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and Republicans in favor of construction.
Earlier, Dayton allowed three Minnesota sheriff's offices to send officers to assist the Morton County, N.D., Sheriff's Department, although many fellow Democrats were not happy with the decision after it became public.
Dayton stopped a recent North Dakota request, and did not allow it to be passed on to sheriff's departments.
He said he had no intention to keep the public in the dark about the newest request.
The agreement among states requires requests for aid from one state to another go through governors' offices.
"Under the terms of the compact, approval is expressly and solely assigned to that governor," Dayton wrote. "I exercised my proper authority, and I stand by my decision."
Dayton explained his decision: "I believed it would be unwise to send Minnesota law enforcement personnel into that highly charged and very volatile political situation. In other words, I wanted to prevent Minnesotans from being drawn into a political situation, not to create one."
The governor also told the sheriff's organization that he was concerned that when Minnesota officers were sent to North Dakota earlier that they served under North Dakota authorities. "I believe it is very unwise for any governor to place dedicated law enforcement personnel from his or her state under someone else's command."
Dayton invited Franklin and sheriffs to a meeting to discuss the issue.
Franklin said the sheriffs' main concern is that the Dayton action could affect other states' response to a Minnesota emergency.
"There is no way every law enforcement agency in this or any other state can maintain the levels of staffing and training that would be required to respond to every conceivable hazard or emergency situation that affects our public's safety," Franklin said.
Franklin recalled recent Twin Cities incidents in which out-of-state officers aided during protests. He indicated there could have been problems had "these situations been politicized" and agencies not responded to help.
The Morton County sheriff's office, center of the pipeline protests, is very small, Franklin said, and needed help to protect protesters, the public, media and construction workers, Franklin said.
"When we answer a 911 call, we respond without regard to our political views or the political view of the caller," Franklin told Dayton.