WASHINGTON — As Sen. John Hoeven met with law enforcement officials in Williston, North Dakota, this week he heard what's becoming a familiar request: Get us some more federal help.
"They want FBI and DEA, but they need them here on a permanent basis — period," Hoeven, a Republican said in an interview. "If FBI or DEA agents come in for two weeks or a little more and then leave, it doesn't always get the job done ... as soon as they get acclimated, they're out of here."
Rising crime in North Dakota's fast-growing oil belt — including complex drug and prostitution rings — have already led to some federal officials from the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency spending extended periods of time in the Bakken region. But Hoeven and other local officials say they are increasingly stretched thin and would like the agencies to establish permanent beachheads in the region.
"We've seen a substantial increase in narcotics arrests, and we've seen prostitution come into our area," said David Peterson, lieutenant detective with the Williston police department. "Most law enforcement out in the Bakken region would appreciate the assistance."
Crime in North Dakota increased by 5.5 percent in 2013 compared to 2012, according to statistics released in July by state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. And drug arrests — a key concern in western North Dakota — increased by 19.5 percent. Aggravated assaults also increased by roughly 23 percent in the state. In releasing the statistics, Stenehjem also lamented that the drug cases in the state were more complex than ever, involving large amounts of drugs and cartels.
The push for more federal law enforcement resources in western North Dakota is another sign of the lasting impact of the state's oil boom. While growth in the Bakken region has kept unemployment low and largely protected the state from a national economic downturn, local and federal officials say the pace of growth has created its own set of problems. Hoeven and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., have both worked to address those issues on a federal level, pushing for more money to fund roads in the region, increase rail safety and improve the amount and caliber of housing in the region.
Improving law enforcement resources has proved more of a tangle. The state has worked to address the issue itself, nearly doubling the number of police officers in the state since 2005. And the state recently received $3 million from the Justice Department to improve crime fighting efforts in western North Dakota.
But Hoeven said local officials regularly tell him that a permanent federal presence in the region would improve the situation. At the roundtable he attended this week, he said officials praised the work of FBI and DEA agents dispatched to the region, saying they brought expertise and more resources. But he said that bringing long term improvement to the situation would require more federal help.
"They, locally, look at this as a partnering effort," Hoeven said. "They're not just asking for resources, but they're looking for a partnering effort."
Hoeven said he has made progress with the FBI and anticipates the bureau opening a Williston office at some point in the future.
"I hope within the next few months we can get them based here permanently," he said.
DEA resources are more finite, Hoeven said. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart is supportive of the effort to bring more resources to the region and "willing to try to help us," Hoeven said. But she has also told Hoeven she will have to find another place to cut back before she can devote more resources to the Bakken region.
For local officials, getting the FBI and DEA in the region permanently is about cooperation and ensuring as much as possible is being done to stop the growth of drug and prostitution rings.
"It boils down to more eyes and ears and hands," said Peterson.