Police ask Enbridge to pay for 7,500 hours of pipeline patrol

Invoices obtained by HEATED illustrate an ethically dubious relationship between Minnesota police and the Canadian oil giant.

On December 1, 2020, the Canadian oil giant Enbridge began construction on its controversial Line 3 tar sands pipeline project in Northern Minnesota.

Three days earlier, officers with the Cass County Sheriff’s Department began performing “Safety Patrols” of construction sites, knowing the company would pay for it.

These patrols, documented in invoices obtained by HEATED, illustrate an ethically dubious financial relationship that has blossomed between Minnesota law enforcement and Enbridge since Line 3’s route permit was approved last spring. That permit says Enbridge must pay police for any pipeline-related public safety activity, in order to avoid putting any extra burden on taxpayers.

But Line 3 opponents have told HEATED that Enbridge’s payments are creating a toxic policing environment for the mostly female, indigenous Minnesotans protesting the pipeline. They say the payments are incentivizing cash-strapped departments to spend all their time tracking, intimidating and harassing Line 3’s opponents, so they can get as much money as possible from the multi-billion-dollar foreign oil company before the well runs dry.

The invoices HEATED obtained show no evidence of that intention. But they do show that, over the course of just two months, the Cass County Sheriff’s Department has increased their reliance on Enbridge to fund its officers’ paychecks. Here’s what we found.

7,500 hours of pipeline patrol logged over 3 months

The Cass County Sheriff’s Department is currently seeking a $352,576.22 reimbursement from Enbridge for hours and equipment related to “Line 3 Project Security.” The request spans from November 28 to February 19, a little under three months.

Most of the request is for hours worked, but some is for equipment. A little over $18,500 is for a LiveScan Fingerprint System, an electronic booking system which allows officers to quickly confirm the identify of the people they arrest. There’s also a $3,400 request for reimbursement for a cargo trailer, and another $3,400 for “cut tools,” including one of these guys:

But $327,224.65 of the request is for hours worked on “Safety Patrol,” which I cannot imagine means anything other than “looking out for anti-Line 3 folks who might be planning to slow construction with a direct action against the pipeline.”

For the first month of Line 3’s construction, “Safety Patrol” made up a moderate portion of CCSD officers’ time. Specifically, from November 28 to December 31, 38 officers logged a cumulative 1,906 hours on pipeline-related patrol: 728.75 regular hours, and 1,117.25 overtime hours.

Then things ramped up when January rolled around. Five more officers were added to the list—bringing the total to 43—and the next seven weeks were “Safety Patrol” city. From January 1 to February 19, the 43 officers logged a cumulative 5657.5 hours on pipeline patrol: 2006.25 regular, 3651.25 overtime.

Assuming every officer was full-time, that means that in the month of December, the average Cass County officer spent about 12 percent of their regular working day on Line 3 “Safety Patrol,” and logged about 7 overtime hours per week doing the same.

Then, from January to mid-February, the average Cass County officer spent about 17 percent of their regular working day on Line 3 “Safety Patrol,” and logged about 12 overtime hours per week doing the same.

(Also, if you’d like to explore the data more, I made a Google Sheet of it.)

Enbridge also paying for police for tactical gear, gas masks, “task force” work

Overall, since December, officers with the Cass County Sheriff’s Department have spent about 14 percent of their regular working day on Line 3 “Safety Patrol,” and logged about 10 overtime hours per week doing the same.

But Cass County is just one of many counties along the Line 3 pipeline route—and even counties that aren’t technically on the route have been helping with Line 3 monitoring activity.

It’s unclear exactly how much police work Enbridge is paying for across Minnesota, and how much equipment it has funded. The information we have now is based on individual public records—like the one we just went over—and some public disclosures.

Here are the other ones we know about, in addition to this $350,000 request from Cass County:

  • The Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office is being reimbursed more than $170,000, according to the Bemidji Pioneer. That’s for things like work on the Northern Lights Task Force, a group of 18 county sheriff’s departments created specifically to combat and deter pipeline protestors.

    Via Healing Minnesota Stories, “Here are examples of line-item expenses from various invoices:”

    • $14,840 for gas masks: 28 at $530 each

    • $12,000 for voice projection units for gas masks, 30 at $400 each

    • $14,790 for 39 “PPE” protective suits, between $375 and $390 each

    • $11,170 for “ballistic helmets” and $4,250 for 38 face shields to attach to them.

    • $11,078 for protestor extraction, including a trailer, band saw, chain saw, grinder, and generator, and a chain saw safety class.

    • $4,095 for shields, 39 at $105 each

    • $1,220 for batons: 61 at $20 each

    • $835 for a mobile booking unit and supplies

    • $78 for a megaphone

  • The Polk County Sheriff’s is seeking at least $179,000 from Enbridge. This is via one of our sources in Minnesota who sent a FOIA to the Polk County Sheriff’s Department in August. That number includes about $15,000 in payroll for the year 2020, and a cumulative $160,000 for unspecified “equipment.”

And that’s it. We’re still looking for more. Send some our way if you have it.

Does the effort match the threat?

Of course, police officers must prepare for instances of people breaking the law. And most people participating in direct actions against Line 3—blocking work roads, chaining themselves to Enbridge equipment, etc—appear to be breaking the law when they do it.

But does the level of police preparation for pipeline protestors match the level of threat pipeline protestors pose to public safety? And are other dangerous, deadly Line 3-related public safety problems being met with the same level of attention by Minnesota police?

In the case of Cass County, I went looking to see if the department had ever communicated that Line 3 protestors posed a real threat to public safety. What I found was this quote from Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch from January: “We've had some protests and, for the most part, it has been peaceful, they're respectful, they cooperate when asked, or told what to do. We’ve had activity throughout the pipeline, nothing major.”

It left me thinking a lot about those 7,500 hours Burch’s department just spent on pipeline patrol. Who benefits? Who loses out?

Further reading:

Catch of the Day:

You just sit there and relax. Fish will stand guard and alert you to any rats.

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