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Bakken drug war in needs permanent positions, sheriffs say

Sen. John Hoeven met with law enforcement agencies on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, urging federal agencies to establish a permanent presence in Williston, N.D. Jerry Burnes, Williston Herald

WILLISTON, N.D. – Fighting drug trafficking in the Bakken requires more than two-week stints from federal agents, Oil Patch police chiefs and sheriffs said here Wednesday.

Western North Dakota law enforcement joined Sen. John Hoeven and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in urging federal agencies to establish a permanent presence in Williston.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation sends agents to western North Dakota on a temporary basis, but local sheriffs and police chiefs said they typically stay for two-week assignments.

“They start a case, they’re gone, and a new guy pretty much has to start from scratch again,” said John Fulwider, McKenzie County sheriff, during a roundtable discussion with law enforcement. “So nothing is getting done.”

Hoeven, R-N.D., and Stenehjem sent a joint letter this week to the director of the FBI and the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration asking them to dedicate full-time staff to the Bakken.

Drug crimes increased 19.5 percent from 2012 to 2013 in North Dakota, but that only tells part of the story, Stenehjem said. The cases are becoming more complicated with greater amounts of narcotics and weapons, he said.

Building cases against those drug traffickers takes a long-term commitment, Stenehjem said.

“You need people that are here permanently to get the lay of the land,” he said.

Drug trafficking in the Bakken is on the national radar, including a mention in the National Drug Control Strategy released by the White House drug czar.

“We know, based on everything that we’ve seen, that this is much bigger than a local problem,” said Watford City Police Chief Art Walgren.

Hoeven said he is optimistic about the FBI establishing a permanent office in Williston.

“I think we’re going to get this, and I think we’re going to get there within months,” Hoeven said.

The drug activity also contributes to an increase in aggravated assaults and other crimes, Stenehjem said.

For example, Minot Police Chief Jason Olson said burglaries more than doubled in his city between 2012 and 2013, and most were related to meth.

Getting federal agents stationed permanently in western North Dakota will help improve the quality of life for those communities, said Dickinson Police Chief Dustin Dassinger.

“It’s really the war against narcotics that’s going to play a huge part,” Dassinger said.