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Published April 30 2012

Forum editorial: Oil country crime gets top billing

Reports from last week’s meeting in Glasgow, Mont., help put law enforcement problems in the Bakken oil country of western North Dakota and eastern Montana in a more detailed – more concerning – context. Officials from both states and southern Canada did not fall into the “everything-is-OK” mode that characterizes some of the local and state government spin coming out of the Oil Patch. Rather, they confirmed that the boom in oil has been accompanied by a boom in crime.

To their credit, law enforcement personnel at all levels of government are developing a coordinated, collaborative approach to the crime escalation in oil boom communities. The shape of the collaboration began to emerge at a regional meeting a few weeks ago in Denver that included representatives of the industry. The meeting in Glasgow further strengthened resolve to work across borders in order to address a problem that is larger than oil country. The boom is attracting criminal elements from all over the United States, ranging from prostitution rings and drug runners to shady contractors and scam artists.

Local police and sheriffs’ departments should welcome the help. They have been as candid as the local political climate will allow regarding a lack of resources to stem a crime wave the likes of which they have never before experienced. U.S. Attorney for North Dakota Tim Purdon put it this way:

“Local departments have been squeezed to the point where they are having trouble performing proactive police works. (They) don’t have the time.”

In other words, routine programs to prevent crime are not getting done because city police officers and county sheriffs are responding to more active crimes – real-time crimes – than they have ever seen in their mostly rural and small-town jurisdictions.

The historic oil boom is generating great individual wealth, record state revenues and thousands of good jobs. But the boom also is creating a wave of crime, social problems, economic dislocation and infrastructure stress that also is historic. Denial won’t make it better. A collaborative law enforcement program, at least, can keep it in check.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.