NET’s latest documentary, “Small Town Cops,” will highlight the Mitchell Police Department and sheriff’s offices in Jefferson and Butler counties to put a spotlight on the universal challenges faced by law enforcement officers.
Produced by Bill Kelly, the documentary will air July 11.
The documentary notes how over the last several decades, law enforcement officers in small towns are still responsible for running radar, making traffic stops, dealing with false alarms, animal control and nuisance enforcement for weeds and junk. But the technology they use, the training required and the ferocity of violence they face today has vastly changed.
“We saw an opportunity to tell these stories,” Kelly said.
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In Mitchell, 22% of the town's annual budget is dedicated to law enforcement. Police Chief Michael Cotant, who is profiled in the documentary, was thrilled to have new Officer Regina Preston join the force after graduating from the Law Enforcement Training Center.
The film follows Preston during her time at the training center, which prepared her for all types of police work, including active-shooter training, a relatively new addition to the coursework at the center. Active-shooter training used to be nonexistent, as officers were instructed to wait for SWAT to arrive.
Though rural populations have declined, crime rates have increased, said former Butler County Sheriff Marcus Siebken. He and Jefferson County Sheriff Nels Sorensen both said drug arrests have skyrocketed in recent years, and many other crimes, including burglaries, are often the result of drug addicts seeking ways to feed their habit.
Dealing with individuals with mental health issues is also a rising concern. Rural areas rarely have enough mental health professionals and no facilities to address the issues, so law enforcement officers are now responsible for initial assessment, finding resources and providing transport in many cases, Siebken said.