“Thing are slowing down? I can unequivocally say they are not here for the court system,” Northwest District Judge Robin Schmidt told KX News.
Although the oil and gas market is in a downturn, Schmidt and McKenzie County Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger testified to North Dakota legislators that crime is still on the rise while the Energy Development and Transmission Committee toured the Bakken oil patch. A large part of the problem, they said, is drug and mental health related.
Despite the area receiving an increased share of oil tax revenue and the recent $1.1 billion surge funding, work on infrastructure such as roads and water remain, as does the need for increased mental health care. As the interim Committee, comprised of 12 state representatives, toured Watford City and Williston, Sen. Rich Wardner (R-Dickinson) said it became evident that the region “needs an infusion of mental health services to deal with issues primarily related to drug addiction,” reports the Bismarck Tribune.
As the caseloads continue to increase in McKenzie County, officials are beginning to explore different approaches, such as drug court and mental health facilities to curb at least one growing statistic: the increased number of drug cases. Schmidt told KX News, “A large portion of our problem is drug and mental health related so if we can get a drug court going, we can hopefully get a handle on some of this and actually start solving the problem instead of just putting a Band-Aid on it.”
As reported by the Tribune, Watford City Police Chief Art Walgren told the committee that before the boom, there were roughly 46 police calls per year, a figure which has skyrocketed to about 10,000. He also told the committee that there’s now between 20 to 100 pounds of methamphetamine coming through the area each month. In a testament to the lack of mental health care, he added an anecdote of a recent referral for a man who was suicidal, and possibly homicidal, that was put back on the street because there were no openings for mental health care.
According to the McKenzie County State’s Attorney’s Office, the amount of criminal case filings in that county alone has increased six-fold since 2005. The increases are greater than any other county in the state. Felony cases in that same timeframe, for example, have risen from about 20 to 340. Schwartzenberger said that along with the downturn, area officials anticipated an uptick in criminal activity. That’s exactly what they’re seeing, he added. “People are getting a little desperate. They put their eggs in one basket from where they came from, came here, burned a bridge, and they can’t go back so they get desperate here.”