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Officials say drugs 'burgeoning threat' in the Bakken

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Williston, ND - Drug trafficking in the Bakken is highlighted in the National Drug Control Strategy released Wednesday by the White House drug czar.

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The 102-page document includes several mentions of North Dakota and Montana, including about a page dedicated to the need for agencies to collaborate in response to a “burgeoning threat” in the Bakken.

“This influx of highly paid oil field workers into an area with limited opportunities for spending their income has created a market for drugs and contributed to an overall increase in crime,” the report says.

Michael Botticelli, acting director of National Drug Control Policy, was unveiling the drug control strategy Wednesday in Roanoke, Va. The previous drug czar, R. Gil Kerlikowske, visited North Dakota’s Oil Patch about a year ago.

U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon said a mention of a North Dakota-specific crime issue in such a plan is unusual, and he’s not sure it has ever happened before.

“This underscores the urgency of the need for additional law enforcement resources to respond to the growing organized crime problem we are facing in the Bakken,” Purdon said.

The document cites statistics from the FBI Uniform Crime Report that shows that crimes in the Williston Basin increased 32 percent from 2005 through 2011, and violent crimes including murder, aggravated assault, forcible rape and robbery increased 121 percent.

“These dramatic increases have overwhelmed state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies working with limited resources,” the report says.

The drug control strategy says that federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies should work together with prevention and treatment specialists “to provide a balanced, holistic approach to reducing drug use and its consequences.”

The report also mentions that the Bakken has experienced a large influx of outlaw motorcycle gangs attempting to establish “ownership” of the territory, facilitating the illegal drug trade and prostitution.

Purdon said the federal law enforcement response to the challenges has included additional agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal agencies.

“The fact is our home towns in the Bakken are developing big city crime problems and we need more resources from every level of government - federal, state, tribal and local - to continue this fight,” Purdon said.

During a recent discussion in Minot hosted by U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., law enforcement officials called for more federal and state resources to fight crime.

Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski said the Drug Enforcement Agency is “invisible” in western North Dakota. Other agencies, including the U.S. Border Patrol, said they struggle to recruit and retain law enforcement officers, particularly in western North Dakota.

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Amy Dalrymple

Amy Dalrymple is a Forum News Service reporter stationed in the Oil Patch. She can be reached at adalrymple@forumcomm.com or (701) 580-6890.

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