The Dakota County Sheriff's Office threw its name in the hat for a federal grant that would let it purchase a new squad car and license plate reader and hire a full-time deputy to enforce orders for protection. But Sheriff Tim Leslie is keeping a close eye on legislation that could kill that effort before it begins.

The $450,000 grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice, pays $150,000 over three years to effectively start a pilot program for trying to identify those who violate orders for protection. Leslie estimates that there are roughly 2,000 such orders issued each year in Dakota County. An order for protection is a civil court order in which a person seeks conditions — often involving no contact — set on another person when domestic abuse is alleged.

Trying to spot violations is difficult, Leslie said, as police typically respond only when a victim calls 911.

"It's needle in a haystack kind of stuff," Leslie said.

Leslie said the new deputy would access a database of active orders for protection. The deputy's squad car would also be equipped with an automated license plate reader to spot those who are too close to the person who filed the order. Leslie said he expects to know more about the application's chances next month. If successful, he said, a grant-funded deputy could be added by late summer.

Because the position would be funded by a pilot grant, Leslie said it would be made clear to the new hire that the position may not be around after a few years. But another factor could prevent the position from existing at all. Since their adoption in 2012, automated license plate readers have been the subject of data privacy debate in the Legislature.

A house committee passed a bill last month that sets data retention at 30 days. If that bill does not become a law, Leslie said, his office would not purchase a license plate reader and therefore become ineligible for the grant.

Stephen Montemayor • 952-746-3282