Cross-border collaboration sought for Bakken crime

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Law enforcement agencies from North Dakota, Montana and Canada have agreed to work across borders to police a spike in crime brought by the Bakken oil boom, the U.S. Attorney for Montana said.

Tens of thousands of workers pouring into the region are straining the resources of sparsely-populated counties, from police forces dealing with more drug crimes and violence, to a lack of affordable housing.

Complicating the problem for law enforcement are jurisdictional borders between two states, two countries and several American Indian reservations.

“We have to be able to work across the boundaries. The crooks sure do and they don’t care, so we on a law enforcement side need to be able to work collaboratively,” said U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter, who hosted a conference on the Bakken last week that drew about 150 local, state and federal law enforcement from the U.S. and Canada.

The Bakken has emerged as one of the top-producing oil fields in the U.S. Intensive drilling is expected to continue for another decade or more, providing a sustained source of jobs and tax revenues.

But the negative effects of the boom are spreading: deputies in Gallatin County — halfway across Montana from the heart of the boom — are now making drug interdiction work along the Highway 90-corridor part of their routine, said Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin.

“We know they’re coming through and they’ve got drugs, guns, money or all of the above,” Gootkin said.

Agencies are also keeping their eye out for environmental crimes as hundreds of oil companies and their contractors seek to dispose of massive volumes of waste liquids from drilling and oil production. State and federal officials said they already were investigating some potential environmental crimes but declined to provide specifics.

At the Glasgow conference, representatives of the U.S Marshals Service, FBI, EPA and other federal agencies offered training and assistance to local officials grappling with the boom. And some of those federal agents in turn asked for help from local law enforcement, such as reporting illegal pollution dumping and keeping tabs on suspicious persons they come across in their communities.

For the Marshals Service, the help offered could include training in officer safety, tracking sex offenders and even help chasing down people wanted on local felony warrants, said Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Rod Ostermiller.

Such trainings have long been part of the agency’s workload. But Ostermiller said there previously was little need for such work in the rural, sparsely-populated counties where the Bakken has created the most frenzy.

“We’ve had little interaction with a lot of the agencies out there,” he said. “We’re kind of breaking new ground.”

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