Concern about the impact of the oil boom on local law enforcement efforts in the Bakken oil fields prompted the United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Montana to host a two-day law enforcement forum in Glasgow on Monday and Tuesday. The event brought to the Cottonwood about 100 local sheriffs, chiefs of police, tribal law enforcement, county attorneys, tribal prosecutors and federal law enforcement from Montana and North Dakota, along with Canadian law enforcement partners.
The forum focused on issues surrounding jurisdictional questions between law enforcement agencies, common crimes affecting the area and intelligence sharing between law enforcement partners. Forum attendees included Michael Cotter, the United States Attorney for the District of Montana, the United States Attorney for the District of North Dakota, Timothy Purdon, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock and North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.
Cotter said, “Estimates are that twenty to thirty thousand new oilfield workers will descend upon the Bakken area in the next few years. The population flux will naturally bring increased criminal activity to the area. Proximity to Indian country, as well as state and international borders, will create jurisdictional issues for law enforcement. It is imperative that our law enforcement communities establish open lines of communication between each other to ensure they are as responsive as possible to the communities they serve.”
Montana people were searching for information from their North Dakota counterparts who have already felt the impacts.
“Guns, drugs and organized crime always go together,” said Brady MacKay, resident agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug marketers will target the large influx of people and money into the area, he said.
Dallas Carlson, director on the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, recited the crime statistics they are facing, with cases up 20 percent in the last year. There is a large turnover in personnel like teachers and nurses, necessitating lots of background checks. The number of registered sex offenders is way up. Requests for concealed weapons permits have soared 150 percent in Williams County, where Williston is.
“Mary Kay parties are being replaced by Taser and pepper spray parties,” Carlson said. “You will see it on this side of the border soon.”
Valley County Sheriff Glen Meier said it was a very productive two days.
“The basic crux was to make acquaintances in other towns and jurisdictions for the help we need,” Meier said.
Nickolas Murnion, Valley County attorney and a member of the Montana Board of Crime Control, proposed the idea of an eastern Montana drug prosecuting coordinator, a full-time person who would handle training, assist with search warrants, compile a drug prosecution handbook and assist local law enforcement. The coordinator would coordinate with the U.S. attorney and Canadian officials, and help decide which jurisdiction should file charges. He said there is already similar position, a traffic safety resource coordinator – what he calls the DUI coordinator – who has made a big difference.
Crime is 60 go 80 percent caused by drugs, Murnion said.
“To deal with the crime aspects of the Bakken, we have to deal with drugs and violent crime,” he said.
Sheriff Meier described how cross-deputization of Valley County and Fort Peck tribal officers has worked for the last 10 years. He says it has been a success. All eight members of his office are cross-deputized and have the right to make arrests on the Fort Peck Reservation.
Meier said there might be an over-reaction to the movement of oil patch people into the area. He said this would be the third time Valley County has been invaded. The first time was 75 years ago when Fort Peck Dam was built and 10,000 workers poured in. The next was in the 1950s with the Glasgow Air Force Base, which doubled the population. He said Valley County fared very well in those times.
“We want our schools full and the business but we don’t want anybody to come in,” Meier said. “We might be over-reacting a bit. We can’t stop it anyway.”
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