North Dakota’s oil boom no boon to struggling cops

25 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Not Mayberry anymore’: Oil patch cops scramble to keep up.

WATFORD CITY, N.D. (AP) – Police chief Art Walgren knew how much the oil boom had changed this once-sleepy town when he spotted something that would have been unheard of not long ago: license plates from Sinaloa, Mexico, home to one of the world’s most violent drug cartels. The gusher of oil and money flowing from the Bakken fields has made policing more demanding and dangerous, forcing small-town officers, county sheriffs and federal agents to confront everything from rowdy bar fights to far-reaching methamphetamine and heroin networks and prostitution rings operating out of local motels. “It’s not Mayberry anymore,” says U.S. And the cases have become more and more complicated.” Most newcomers to the Bakken – which spans western North Dakota, eastern Montana and part of Canada – move here honestly in search of a new job or, in some cases, a new life. But more people also means more crime, overcrowded jails and overwhelmed police departments, often with relatively inexperienced officers who are constantly racing from call to call. “What do we need?

In November, the FBI announced it will open a permanent office in the Bakken — time and location to be determined — joining other federal and state law enforcement agencies assisting nearby police crack down on newly emerging criminal enterprises. We can’t expect to move an incredibly large number of cases through the same machinery that’s been in effect for the last 20 years.” Reinforcements are on the way. Here in Watford City, the police force has multiplied from four, including the chief, in 2010 to 19 sworn officers serving a population that could grow to 15,000 by 2017, a nearly tenfold raise given that the final census. In North Dakota, the number of murders dropped in 2013, but drug arrests increased nearly 20 percent and robberies were up 29 percent compared with 2012.

In Montana, oil patch arrests rose by 80 percent between 2008 and 2012, and drug investigations initiated by the state Department of Justice in that area nearly tripled between 2010 and 2013, according to state Attorney General Tim Fox. Last year, there had been 7,414. “It puts a lot of stress on us,” says Walgren, a 25-year police veteran who became chief final spring. “We’re so utilised to trying to keep that smaller-town attitude exactly where you generally wave at your neighbor and everybody’s always your friend. About a third of law enforcement officers surveyed in a 2013 North Dakota State University study of oil patch police reported that fears of crime have increased in their communities since the boom began. This is not the Wild West, as some media accounts have recommended, says Walgren, but police are navigating a new landscape: Embezzlements circumstances are larger.

Now, there are more people that you don’t know than those that you do.” That changes police strategy. “Before if you had a bunch of thefts, you’d have a handful of most likely suspects – people who were hard-up for money,” Walgren explains. “Now it’s much more anonymous and you have to go outside the box … learn new techniques and handle crimes you’ve never dealt with before.” Watford City is a town in transition. In Dickinson, almost 70 miles southeast, a extremely visible four-individual team patrols the bars on random Friday and Saturday nights to head off brawls that have turn into increasingly prevalent.

Joe Cianni, a 21-year veteran. “This division wasn’t utilized to dealing with main crimes involving weapons,” he says. “In the past, it employed to happen after just about every 4 to six months. Projects worth tens of millions of dollars are planned or in the works, including apartments, a hospital, a high school, two hotels (several have recently opened) and, not surprisingly, a law enforcement center. Now it really is once a week.” The hectic pace tends to burn out officers, and it’s hard to recruit and retain new ones, Cianni adds, because of soaring housing costs and the remote place.

Some officers participated in a single federal-state-nearby operation in late 2013 that had to be reduce quick when authorities ran out of jail space right after arresting 11 men, says Purdon, the prosecutor. And workers in hard hats, coats trimmed with reflector tape and mud-caked boots line up in the pre-dawn darkness at the Kum & Go gas station-convenience store for chewing tobacco and coffee. In Ward County, two hours east of Williston, the sheriff is facing a problem that exists in quite a few components of the oil patch: an overcrowded jail. Police reported calls were up nearly 45 percent from 2009 to 2014, when there were more than 27,000. “Some of the North Dakota niceness has left our community,” says Dickinson Police Chief Dustin Dassinger. “It’s an adjustment, not just for law enforcement but for everyone.” Being a police officer has become more stressful, says Capt.

Among the reasons: the high cost of living ($80,000 homes before the boom can now sell for $200,000), the remoteness of the city and a perception of North Dakota as a barren place with brutal winters and little else. They’d answered a bogus ad police placed in purporting to offer sex with a 14-year-old girl. “That’s shocking to me,” Purdon adds. “It shows a level of demand for sex with underage kids that’s really scary. … You’re crazy if you don’t think there’s a supply out there to match it.” He says one man answering the ad wanted to know what was the youngest girl available.

Local drug traffickers have been pushed aside by organized West Coast gangs and groups such as the Sinaloa cartel that “bring in everything they need,” Long explains. “They’re pretty well-educated on law enforcement techniques. It’s ‘been there, done that.’ We have to get out ahead of the curve.” Long also says small-town police ask his agency for training, but they’re more interested in patrol-related issues such as stopping bar fights than they are in investigating major crimes. “They’re just trying to stem the tide of that day-to-day stuff. … This isn’t a knock on these guys,” he says. “They’ve never had to deal with some of these problems. After handling perhaps two murder cases in the previous 20 years, Nelson says this one was among five he’s had in the last 13 months, all but one involving newcomers. To free up space, people charged with petty theft, disorderly conduct and other low-level crimes are no longer jailed and instead are required to sign a pledge to appear in court. “We have no room at the inn,” Kukowski says, noting the jail was built 30 years ago when the population was half of what it is now.

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