About a month after he was ticketed by a pair of University of North Dakota police officers, a Grand Forks legislator submitted a bill to narrow the department’s jurisdiction.
On Dec. 10, state Rep. Steve Vetter, R-Grand Forks, was pulled over and cited for allegedly turning into an incorrect lane. During the conversation with officers, Vetter said it was "a joke" that UND officers were citing him off-campus and told the officers they were "obviously blowing up too much of your power."
Vetter introduced House Bill 1460 on Jan. 18. University police officers’ jurisdiction is limited to an area that roughly encompasses the UND campus, and Vetter’s bill would have further restricted it to property owned or leased by the North Dakota Board of Higher Education within that area. Co-sponsors of House Bill 1460 are Rep. Bob Paulson, R-Minot, and Rep. Gary Paur, R-Gilby. The bill is specific to UND and does not mention other universities in the state.
It has since failed overwhelmingly in a House vote.
Vetter said on Wednesday that the ticket itself is not the problem, and he put together the bill to push conversations about campus police officers’ jurisdiction, which he considers to be an ongoing issue that causes logistical and legal problems.
“I’m not introducing the bill because I’m mad at the ticket; I’m introducing the bill because I found out what they’re actually doing,” Vetter said, referring to university police who patrol the edges of their jurisdiction. “So now that I know about it and I’m right in the middle of a session, why wouldn’t I want to talk about this issue?”
Officers Ryan Gunville and Austin Brockling stopped Vetter after he turned left onto DeMers Avenue from South 17th Street but did not turn into the leftmost lane. DeMers is the southernmost border of the department’s jurisdiction.
“You need to pull into the closest lane to you,” Gunville tells Vetter in body camera footage provided Wednesday. “You can’t pull into the further lane. That can result in an accident.”
Vetter said he merged into the right lane to leave room for another car that was turning onto 17th from DeMers.
“I’m actually a legislator, and I know nothing about a law that you just told me about. I don’t know anything about that and I don’t think that there’s any reason why you should be pulling somebody over for what you’re doing right now,” he said to the officers during the traffic stop. “But do what you’ve got to do. I think what you’re doing is not right.”
Vetter told the officers he did not have proof of registration or proof of insurance. He was ticketed for the traffic violation – a $20 fine the officers told him he could appeal in Grand Forks traffic court – but not the other potential violations.
In body camera video, Vetter asks if the officers have jurisdiction in that part of Grand Forks. They claim they have jurisdiction on the northerly side of DeMers and, then, on that stretch of DeMers generally.
“I'm pretty sure that we guys just gave you guys extended jurisdiction – what, two years ago in the Legislature? …. And so you're saying I committed the crime on DeMers Avenue and that gives you guys jurisdiction? You guys are obviously blowing up too much of your power. So, whatever. Give me your tickets,” Vetter said. “The reason why the Legislature didn't want to – why there was people against it in the first place – is because you'd be doing (expletive) like this. … You’re UND cops and you’re writing tickets right here? It's a joke. Give me your ticket, please.”
North Dakota Century Code 15-10-17 stipulates that UND police officers have jurisdiction on DeMers Avenue west to North 55th Street from North Washington Street, an area that includes the spot where Vetter allegedly pulled into the incorrect lane and where he ultimately pulled over his car.
Vetter said that a high-ranking UND police administrator offered to “take back” the ticket, but he declined the offer. Vetter said he was mad about the ticket – “I’m human just like everybody else” – but said he wasn’t attempting to avoid it.
“If I’m throwing my weight around, then why aren’t I getting out of a ticket?” he asked rhetorically.
He declined to name the administrator.
“What I came to realize after this incident is that these UND police officers are patrolling up and down DeMers Avenue, Gateway, to the airport, some of these other areas,” Vetter said. “What is their role? Are they supposed to be policing our whole city? Are they supposed to be policing just a little portion? Are they supposed to stay in their jurisdiction? Are they just supposed to be in the higher ed? … It seems to me they just keep extending it and extending it to the point where, I mean, why don’t we just let them patrol the whole city?”
The “extended jurisdiction” to which Vetter referred during the traffic stop is a reference to a 2017 bill that defined – and expanded – university cops’ jurisdiction beyond their respective campuses. Before that bill, a 2015 North Dakota Supreme Court ruling meant that officers employed through the North Dakota University System could not exercise their jurisdiction beyond their respective campuses.
The bill Vetter, Paulson and Paur introduced last month was heard by the House Education Committee, which recommended on Jan. 28 that it not pass by a 13-0 vote, with one abstention. The bill was then rejected by the House on Feb. 2. The lone vote in favor was Paur; the remaining 93 House votes, including Vetter himself, voted against it.
“This has been an ongoing issue since 2017, and it’s obviously an ongoing issue because they’ve got a bill in the Senate right now to try to fix their jurisdiction,” Vetter told the Herald.
That Senate bill seeks to do the opposite of Vetter’s.
Senate Bill 2168 would expand campus police officers’ jurisdictional boundaries at UND and Bismarck State College to include a 1,500-foot buffer beyond their existing ones. Both campuses expressed issues with pursuits that go off campus and then face jurisdictional issues when the cases go to court. It passed the Senate 46-1 in late January.
Sen. Curt Kreun, R-Grand Forks, said during a hearing for the bill last month that the legislation would not extend the jurisdictional boundaries of university officers, instead giving them a 1,500-foot buffer. An incident still has to occur within the university’s jurisdiction, but officers would have the space provided by the buffer to make a stop or an arrest of an individual when in “fresh pursuit” of them.
There have been several incidents over the years where criminal cases have been thrown out because of jurisdictional issues after a case that started within the bounds of UND’s campus was moved to the city, Kreun said.
“They still work with local law enforcement, they still make the call, but we do have that so it eliminates some of the problems that take place with the prosecution,” he said.