City approves addition to agreement with Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to fight human trafficking

The Bemidji City Council on Monday authorized adjusting an agreement between the Police Department and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to combat human trafficking. The Council also authorized Mayor Jorge Prince to join a committee related to the Beltrami County Jail.

The Beltrami County Jail was originally built in 1989 with updates added throughout the years. County officials recently said the jail is deteriorating and lacking in space. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- An amendment to an agreement with the state regarding human trafficking law enforcement efforts was approved by the Bemidji City Council Monday.

In February 2020, the Bemidji Police Department entered into the Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force Joint Powers agreement with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The joint powers authority assists agencies in the state during complex human trafficking investigations.

The amendment to the agreement is based on actions by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which created a public safety escrow account related to the permit for Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline replacement project. As part of the requirement, Enbridge must make funding available to public safety service providers working on human trafficking law enforcement.

The amendment will allow the Bemidji Police Department to be reimbursed for training, equipment and overtime salaries related to human trafficking law enforcement operations.

The new pipe will replace the existing Line 3, which was installed in the 1960s. The existing pipeline operates at half capacity because of its age and condition.


Line 3 received necessary permitting in late 2020, after nearly six years of review and legal actions . The new pipe is more than 1,000 miles long and will replace the old Line 3, extending from Edmonton, Alberta to Superior, Wis., where a terminal is located. In Minnesota, 337 miles of pipeline will be installed.

In addition to the escrow account, another condition of the pipeline's approval requires Enbridge to create a human trafficking prevention plan.

The amendment to the agreement was approved by the council in a 6-1 vote ,with Mayor Jorge Prince and Council Members Ron Johnson, Daniel Jourdain, Josh Peterson, Emelie Rivera and Audrey Thayer voting in favor. Councilor Nancy Erickson voted against the motion.

Additionally, before that vote, Erickson made a motion to deny the amendment, which failed as there was a lack of a second. Erickson said she didn't want Enbridge's name attached to such an action.

"I think this is garbage," Erickson said. "I don't know why the Public Utilities Commission would call out Enbridge. I found this to be extremely disturbing and I cannot vote for it. Apparently the Public Utilities Commission finds some nexus between Enbridge and sex trafficking activities, and I see none."

In her comments, Thayer noted a recent case where pipeline workers were charged in a human trafficking sting. The arrests happened in late February, when law enforcement authorities arrested and charged seven people during a three-day human trafficking operation in Itasca County.

The operation included the BCA, Itasca County Sheriff' Office and Tribes United Against Sex Trafficking Task Force. Two of the men arrested in the bust were working on Enbridge's Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project .

Following the arrests, Enbridge officials stated that all workers go through human trafficking awareness training before working on Line 3.


Additionally, Enbridge Spokesperson Juli Kellner said "we support all efforts by law enforcement to arrest perpetrators as well as the prosecution of anyone participating in trafficking to the maximum extent of the law" in a statement to the Duluth News Tribune.

"There are 27 to 54 American Indian women that are missing in any given month in Minnesota," Thayer said. "So, the importance of missing and murdered Indigenous women in our state is very real. It's a serious issue, and this is something that's close to home. I'm thankful that we are partnering with organizations that can help the safety of our women, because it's real in this area."

Beltrami County jail committee

Another law enforcement-related item on the council's agenda Monday was the addition of Prince to a committee which will consider the future of the Beltrami County Jail. The facility was built in 1989 and has a total capacity of 132.

Discussions about the jail have been ongoing for the last several years, with concerns about structural issues and space both coming up . Regarding the latter, the county has had to house inmates at other facilities at a cost of $55 per day.

With the building itself, both the Minnesota Department of Corrections and jail staff informed officials of issues in 2019. After those details were shared, repairs were made to the jail, yet the facility has still aged considerably in recent years.

Currently, the county is considering whether to remodel the building or construct a new facility. To do so, the county is establishing a steering committee, which will make the final recommendations to the Beltrami Board of Commissioners.

The proposed steering committee will include:

  • Two county commissioners.
  • Minnesota Department of Correction Regional official Trisha Hansen.
  • A Red Lake Nation government official.
  • A Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe government official.
  • Minnesota Department of Corrections Tribal Liaison Randy Goodwin.
  • Two citizen advisory members.
  • County Jail Administrator Calandra Allen.
  • Sheriff Ernie Beitel.
  • County Administrator Tom Barry.

In speaking on the matter, Thayer said she wished the county had provided information of who will be on advisory committees.
"I noticed the steering committee had 12 members, and I was concerned," Thayer said. "I noticed the White Earth (Nation) wasn't included. They also didn't list three advisory committees, so I'm sitting here wondering how they're going to engage with the community. I also wish they would have given us the option to appoint a person to the committee."


In his comments, Prince said he was invited to the committee by Beitel.

"The new jail project could potentially be within the city limits and it could be big, so he was requesting my presence as city representation," Prince said. "From a city perspective, I looked at it as an opportunity for us to have input into a county project that was being offered. We have been working harder to improve the relationship between the city and county, so I took it as an olive branch."

The council voted to approve adding Prince to the steering committee in a 4-3 vote. Erickson, Johnson, Peterson and Prince voted in favor while Jourdain, Rivera and Thayer were against.

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