by Jessie Veeder
A half eaten Tupperware of salad sits open on the desk in her new office, next to a computer and small stacks of files and paperwork. She’s just switched to the night shift and, in the first ten minutes, is already rushing back to the office from a call.
“I’m running on seven hours of sleep in two days,” she laughs, taking a seat in front of her desk. “But I love the night shift. It’s when all the cool stuff happens.”
Watford City, North Dakota Sergeant Shannon Monnens will work two months on this schedule, reporting for duty at six p.m. to perform routine bar checks, patrol the streets and do what she can to keep it safe for twelve hour shifts that, according to Shannon, typically stretch into fourteen or sixteen hours.
When her two months on night patrol are up, she’ll spend two months on days.
But Shannon, a youthful, social and self-proclaimed “Type A-plus” personality enjoys the action that nights in boomtown bring to her job.
“There’s usually a large crowd at the bars at night so I like to perform the checks. I like talking to people,” Shannon explains. “I like that they recognize me, they know me and know that they can come to me if they need something. A little extra time with the public really helps with rapport.”
Made for the job
You don’t have to talk shop with Shannon very long before you start to see a woman who’s comfortable in her uniform and well equipped to handle the challenges of law enforcement in a town literally bursting at the seams. It’s a career she’s been working toward since a young age.
“I honestly don’t know why I decided I wanted to go into law enforcement,” said Shannon, whose first experience in the field was as a kid growing up in the Twin Cities, participating in the Police Explorer Program where youth would spend time learning from police officers and compete in crime solving lessons and competitions.
“I was intrigued by the job,” said Shannon, who added that all her friends knew her as the ‘cop wannabe.’ “And I knew enough about myself to know that I didn’t want to sit behind a desk all of my life’.”
But Shannon didn’t take a direct path to finish her training. After two years taking general education courses at Hibbing Community College, Shannon took a break and took a job as a 911 Dispatcher with the St. Louis County Sherriff’s Department.
“Taking that job was my push,” said Shannon.
Within a year, in 2010, Shannon graduated with an AAS Degree in Law Enforcement from Hibbing Community College and, at 25 years old, was hired as Babbit Police Department’s first female police officer, a title that made her nervous, but one she was welcomed into with open arms.
Then, a short six months later she got a call from her former Hibbing Community College classmate, Jesse Wellen, who had been working as a police officer in Watford City for the six months. He encouraged her to make the move out west where Shannon could work in a fast growing community, with some familiar faces.
Today, nine out of the eleven officers on Watford City’s police force graduated in the same class as Shannon.
Shannon’s witnessed a lot of changes since her arrival in Watford City almost four years ago, both professionally and personally.
“I started as the sixth officer hired. Now we’re at eleven and we’re still short handed,” said Shannon, who also notes the improvements in amenities, restaurants and the new grocery store as developments that have made life easier and more enjoyable in a growing town. “It used to take me five minutes with lights and sirens on to get from one end of town to the other. Now it takes me about fifteen minutes. I’m not just a hop, skip and a jump from the next officer anymore.”
The most significant change in Shannon’s life, however, is her recent marriage to the man responsible for her arrival in Watford City in the first place, now Assistant Chief of Police, Jesse Wellen.
The couple, who dated in college, were married in October of last year and recently purchased a house in town that Shannon says is big enough to grow into.
In the future.
Because with both members of the relationship working shift work, scheduling time together can be tricky.
“The first year we were here we didn’t have a day off at the same time. That was tough,” said Shannon who then adds that it’s nice to have a partner who understands the challenges of a job that can be emotionally and physically draining.
A day in the life
Regardless of her schedule, Shannon approaches each shift with enthusiasm. And tonight she has goals. She would like to finish the reports from the four cases she accumulated on her last day shift, make her rounds and hopes to pull a DUI off the road.
“That pushes me,” Shannon said, adding that she and her partner average one to three DUI arrests a night. “This is what’s killing people out our roads.”
And while DUI arrests are what Shannon would pinpoint as the most common, she also deals with theft reports, drug arrests resulting from routine traffic stops and calls about unruly bar patrons. But her work doesn’t stop there, as each officer is responsible for his or her own cases, from arrest to prosecution.
Before coming on her shift tonight, Shannon spent the day in court.
When asked if she ever gets hassled about being a female working in a man’s world, Shannon says she believes that she might have proved herself early on.
“I had this tense moment where I was the first officer on the scene that involved a person with a gun,” she recalls. “And the public was there watching me handle the situation, this girl, putting a guy down on the ground. Later people would say ‘I heard about you.’ They need to trust you to get the job done.”
Shannon credits her success in the field to her training, especially in tense moments, but she understands that she isn’t invincible. Her goal at the end of the night is keeping her partner safe, keeping her community safe and coming home safe.
“I love my job, “ said Shannon who then adds that it’s important for police officers to have a healthy outlet to deal with toll the rough cases have on their lives. “Lack of sleep wears on the body. And you go from zero to sixty every day, from sitting here to rushing out to a wreck. It can be rough on your body.”
And so she looks to her husband and colleagues for support and settles comfortably into a community that she appreciates for its outdoor activities and small town atmosphere.
On their days off you might find Shannon and Jesse grilling with friends, hiking in the badlands, pheasant hunting or fishing.
In a few weeks Shannon will find out if she got the position with the K-9 unit she applied for.
And tonight you’ll see her behind the wheel of her squad car, patrolling the streets, making her rounds, laughing with her colleagues and living the life of a woman who seems to be made to protect this place.