In a move a prominent U.S. sheriff called unprecedented in his experience, deputies from across the country may come to North Dakota to respond to the pipeline protests.
Laramie County (Wyo.) Sheriff Danny Glick, immediate past president of the National Sheriffs' Association, pledged the support of sheriffs across the country to help Morton County at the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
"When we get a call from Sheriff (Kyle) Kirchmeier, we will be ready to assist," Glick said at a press conference Thursday.
In the past, the group has provided only advice in major protest situations, reserving physical aid for cases of natural disaster, he said.
The support comes as Kirchmeier announced an effort to take a more proactive approach to policing the protests, as no federal aid has arrived.
Kirchmeier said his strategy will include increasing patrols and sending deputies out to talk to farmers and ranchers who have reported trespassing on their property and feeling intimidated and threatened. "These fears are real," he said.
When pressed about whether he felt it was appropriate that local residents say they are carrying guns for self-protection,Kirchmeier responded, "At times, yes."
"The last thing I want to happen is a situation occurring between a local farmer and rancher and some of the individuals that have come here to protest," he said.
Kirchmeier said he would continue blocking roads to worksites, as he did in St. Anthony on Wednesday, if the protesters' intent is to stop construction, press workers to leave the site and enter private property.
"Just a protest doesn't give them the legal right to do that," he said.
Kirchmeier indicated the state's response has reached its capacity. So far, 268 officers from 24 cities and counties across North Dakota have assisted Morton County. No deputies from other states have assisted yet.
A request by the governor for federal officers was denied, the Forum News Service reported. Similar efforts by the state's congressional delegation are ongoing.
There are currently no plans to increase the presence of the National Guard beyond manning the checkpoint along Highway 1806, Kirchmeier said.
"We have tapped the resources to a level we have never seen in North Dakota," he said.
About 2,000 to 2,500 people are living at the protest camps, according to Kirchmeier.
Protesters headed toward St. Anthony again around noon on Thursday, according to Morton County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Donnell Preskey. Law enforcement officers blocked multiple roads to stop them from going to the sites. Work stopped at two locations but continued at others in the area.
The targeted sites are not within the zone where construction has been temporarily halted by a federal court.