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Law enforcement says they lack staff to deal with boom

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp

MINOT, N.D. – North Dakota’s economic boom has made the state a target for criminal activity, but federal law enforcement agencies don’t have enough staff to be a deterrent, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said Friday.

Heitkamp, D-N.D., invited U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, to North Dakota to discuss border security and challenges facing law enforcement.

During a roundtable meeting Friday, law enforcement officers said they are investigating more complex cases, seizing greater amounts of drugs and more weapons connected with those drug cases. But those at the roundtable said they’re not getting assistance from the Drug Enforcement Agency.

“Where is DEA in the state of North Dakota? Where are they in the western half?” asked Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski. “They’re invisible.”

Paul Ward, U.S. marshal for North Dakota, said he would like to be more proactive, such as expanding the High Plains Fugitive Task Force that currently operates in the eastern part of the state. But he doesn’t have enough deputies.

“It always seems to come down to staffing,” Ward said.

The U.S. Border Patrol struggles to recruit and retain workers to patrol North Dakota’s border with Canada, largely due to the lack of housing and high cost of living in the Oil Patch, said Robert Danley, patrol agent in charge.

Heitkamp said she is having a three-month dialog with the director of the Office of Personnel Management, Katherine Archuleta, to discuss the federal workforce challenges in North Dakota.

“We need these federal employees in our jurisdiction in North Dakota, but the salaries, and the cost of living and the recruitment has been really, really difficult,” Heitkamp said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has increased its staffing in North Dakota and now has 14 agents and one supervisor. The agency announced this week it is adding a second supervisor to focus on the western half of the state, said John Dalziel, the FBI’s supervisory senior resident agent in North Dakota.

Dalziel said he hopes the FBI will add four more agents in Williston soon.

Heitkamp said North Dakota also needs more staff from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the DEA, and other agencies, particularly because the federal agencies have primary jurisdiction for crimes that occur on Indian reservations.

“When you look at what this economy is contributing to the federal economy, that comes with a cost for increased federal services,” Heitkamp said.

Minot Police Chief Jason Olson said he was disappointed that the state did not increase staffing for the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation in Minot during the last legislative session.

Carper, who also took a helicopter tour Friday of some of North Dakota’s border with Canada, said the law enforcement representatives painted a “grim picture.”

“To hear all of this, it is disturbing, it certainly is illuminating,” Carper said.

Carper pointed out the federal government’s deficit and encouraged agencies to reach out to oil companies to see if they would get involved and contribute resources.

Dalziel said the law enforcement agencies in North Dakota have strong partnerships, allowing them to do more with less.

“It’s not grim here,” Dalziel said. “We’ve identified the problem and we will move smartly forward through it.”

Carper also planned to learn more about North Dakota’s energy production while visiting the state and is expected to participate in a discussion in Williston Saturday on mail delivery issues in the Bakken.