Gazette opinion: More help needed to fight oil patch crime wave

2013-07-23T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: More help needed to fight oil patch crime wave The Billings Gazette
July 23, 2013 12:00 am

The Bakken oil boom has created a crime wave.

Suddenly, small towns such as Sidney, Glendive, Williston, N.D., and Minot, N.D., are seeing big city law enforcement problems.

But these towns don’t have the law enforcement resources to deal effectively with the increase in crime.

The good citizens of the oil patch deserve relief.

Local law enforcement officers, county attorneys and drug treatment professionals appealed for federal help last week when Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D, hosted a forum at Glendive Medical Center.

Tester brought Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy to Montana to hear about the problems firsthand.

Later in the day, the senators and Kerlikowske held a similar forum in Bismarck.

At both stops, the senators and drug policy czar heard that Bakken area jails are filled over capacity and that law officers are stretched thin.

145 pounds of meth

At the Glendive meeting, Montana U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter said that in early 2012 Mexican drug cartels were trafficking cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine in the Bakken area.

As previously reported by Billings Gazette staff writer Tom Lutey, Mexican drug cartels are suspected of distributing roughly 145 pounds of methamphetamine, several kilograms of cocaine and a kilogram of heroin in the Bakken. That’s just one case.

Dawson County Sheriff Craig Anderson said his deputies are arresting newcomers who are younger and more violent.

Bookings at the Dawson County Jail have risen from 50 a day in 2008 to more than 76 a day this year, Anderson said.

5 fewer prosecutors

In Montana, Department of Justice sequestration cuts totaled $672,000 in 2013. Cotter’s office is down 5 prosecutors.

The Montana U.S. Attorney’s office will see a $941,000 cut in the coming fiscal year. Cuts are also in store for programs that benefit local law enforcement, he said.

“The decrease in funds will result in a decrease in agents and officers investigating cases, a decrease in cases prosecuted at local and federal levels and a decrease in criminals brought to justice,” Cotter said.

“Lives of the folks living in Eastern Montana will be negatively affected.”

Tester and Heitkamp turned a spotlight on a serious two-state challenge. Now they must turn knowledge and concern into action.

People living in the oil patch deserve to be safe in their homes and towns.

Once again, we see how the across-the-board sequestration cuts are poor public policy. While Eastern Montana’s law enforcement challenge is most acute, the entire state is affected.

Federal authorities rank Montana as one of the top 10 drug-abusing states.

We call on Montana’s congressional delegation – Tester, Sen. Max Baucus, and Rep. Steve Daines – to work together to make the case for more law enforcement and drug treatment resources that can be directed where most needed in our state.

We call on local, state and federal law enforcement leaders to maximize their collaboration and cooperation to use their limited resources most effectively. We encourage state leaders to involve Bakken developers in working to reduce crime.

Montanans must keep speaking up about these public safety needs as long as necessary to control the booming crime wave.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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