Gazette opinion: Dear federal government, just send help to Bakken

2014-07-21T00:00:00Z 2014-07-22T07:03:06Z Gazette opinion: Dear federal government, just send help to Bakken The Billings Gazette
July 21, 2014 12:00 am

Dear Attorney General Eric Holder (and federal lawmakers),

Just send help.

Sincerely, The rest of us living here in Montana and North Dakota (that’s in between Washington, D.C., and California).


That’s the message.

It’s pretty simple. No officials or federal government representatives need to visit places like Williston or Watford City or Glendive or Sidney. That will save everyone the embarrassment of having to ask where they are on a map anyway. For most folks in the federal government, places in Montana and North Dakota might seem continents away, it seems.

Instead, they can just send help.

But for those of us in this region, there is a real crisis in the Bakken states, and it’s not just hyperbole.

Crime statistics paint such an unbelievable picture that it’s hard to know what to say. For instance, the Montana Board of Crime Control reports that Bakken counties experienced a 228 percent increase in crime from 2008 to 2012. You would be hard pressed to find a metropolitan area with the same increase. It simply wouldn’t be tolerated in a big city.

Meanwhile, here in the hinterlands, we can’t do much.

During that same four-year period, we doubt that funding for law enforcement, new jails or prosecutors rose 228 percent just to cover the increase.

What’s equally sobering is that violent crimes and drug crimes continue to rise. We don’t seem to be plateauing.

Recently, Montana Representative Steve Daines wrote an emphatic letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking for more support. Not too long ago U.S. President Barack Obama visited North Dakota, and he highlighted the Bakken crime problems as an area of concern.

For those of us who live with the residual effects of Bakken criminal activity, fueled by the growth in the oil patch, we see the problems every day. The problem is one of growth. Law enforcement, courts and detention facilities don’t just magically happen and yet drugs and criminals can arrive overnight.

We need the federal government and some state authorities who seem far-removed in Helena to understand the challenges eastern Montana is facing.

Daines’ pitch wasn’t just some election-season ploy pandering to residents in the eastern part of the state. Daines has repeatedly called for more law enforcement and more attention to the Bakken counties. Recently, he held a listening session in Glendive to understand what the authorities and communities close to the Bakken are experiencing.

One of the other problems is a demonstration of federal bureaucracy simply not being able to handle a real-life situation. North Dakota’s FBI is in a different regional command center than Montana’s, creating a territorial problem for law enforcement. In other words, Montana’s FBI headquarters are in Saltt Lake City. For North Dakota, it’s in Minneapolis. It shouldn’t be a problem, but the federal dividing lines also limit how the FBI responds to what is a growing crisis.

Ask any law enforcement official and they will tell you the types of criminals and drugs that are coming to the area have a sophistication and backing that isn’t just your typical local punks run amok. Instead, as many point out, methamphetamine is coming by the pound, always with heavily armed escorts.

Both Montana and North Dakota are reaping some of the financial good fortunes of the Bakken oil boom. Let’s not forget that the federal government is getting a more stable source of oil and energy by the Bakken. That should also mean that the federal government should send the appropriate resources to the area to keep it safe.

So, we’ll say it again: Just send help.

This article was updated to reflect a change in the story. FBI agents in Montana report to Salt Lake City, not Denver as previously stated.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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