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It's not the first oil boom to hit North Dakota, but it's undoubtedly the biggest. North Dakota has quickly become one of the largest oil-producing states in the country. The Bakken has brought thousands of people to North Dakota and billions of dollars in state revenue. But it's also brought its share of headaches for those living in oil country. Home construction can't keep up with the rapid growth in population. Crimes, accidents and arrests are at an all-time high in western North Dakota. Small cities that were once off the grid are making national headlines as they face challenges they've never had to deal with before.
Clip: Oil Activity Keeps Law Enforcement Busy
Michelle San Miguel
More people living in oil country hasn't just resulted in a significant housing shortage. It's also led to more crimes, more accidents and more arrests. Law enforcement officers say their work has become more reactive than proactive.
There's no such thing as a quiet day or night in Williston anymore. The area once described as peaceful and Mayberry is now known as dirty and chaotic. Around Williston, the population is said to increase on a daily basis, and with that comes more 911 calls.
"I don't for one minute think that the crime rate, the rate, the percentage is a whole lot higher than it used to be. But you add more people, with that crime rate you have more crime," said Williams County Sheriff Scott Busching.
"The night shift we could get the max of maybe six calls when I first started and now you're getting at least 20 to 30 calls per night," said Williston Police Officer Crystal Schaubel.
The Williston Police Department has seen a 260 percent increase in emergency calls since 2009. Officer Schaubel has felt it on both fronts- before she became an officer in July, she spent five years as a dispatcher.
The Williams County Sheriff says the three types of crimes he's most worried about are domestic abuse, aggravated assault and crimes against children. "Living in a 24-foot camper, it gets pretty crowded in there- a lot of domestic issues. Kids get slapped around," Busching said.
Traffic accidents are typical in Williams County. Last year deputies responded to 436 crashes- almost all of them were truck-related.
"You can have a truck going down a perfectly straight, good gravel road in the middle of the day and just tip over," Busching said. "We have no idea why it tipped over, it just did."
"We had an accident not that long ago where the person that caused the accident said, well I was just tired of waiting so he pulled out in front of somebody," said Williston Fire Chief Alan Hanson.
Accidents aren't just more common. They've also become more serious. Ambulance calls have more than doubled within the last five years. But the Williston Fire Department still has the same number of employees it did before the boom began.
Hanson said, "We need more people but trying to figure out how to fund that is the hard part."
Williston city commissioners gave the police department money to hire seven officers this year- five of them are from Minnesota.
"Well back in Minnesota I went to school about three years ago and jobs are just, it's hard to come by out there in Minnesota," said Williston Police Officer Bryan Hutchinson. "I'd put in applications for a few different jobs but was told there's 200-something applicants for one job."
Hutchinson says his bosses told him he'd get five years of experience working in Williston for one year. "That's good, though," Hutchinson said. "That's what I'm looking for, you know. That's the reason I got into it."
Inside the Williams County Jail, it's not apparent that officers are booking more than twice the number of inmates as they did back in 2008. That's because many aren't staying here for very long.
"Many a time they're on their way here and all we do is book 'em and bond 'em," Busching said. "If they don't have it in their pocket, they'll have it in an hour." The sheriff says he's heard of people paying bonds in cash for as much as $63,000. Simply put, Busching says people have more money these days.
A lot of that money is being spent at the local bars. Jello shots. Beer. Hard liquor. It's all here.
"You have thousands of young guys with nothing to do and money in their pocket and what do they do at night? They come to town and go to the bar. They don't always behave themselves," said Williston Mayor Ward Koeser.
"We never used to have things like that where you'd go to a bar and there'd be thirty to forty people outside in the parking lot waiting to fight," said Cpt. Tom Ladwig, assistant police chief for the Williston Police Department.
When they're not breaking up fights, officers are busy arresting people for drinking and driving. DUI arrests have gone up 77 percent since 2009. But those arrests aren't just happening at night. Officers say they arrest as many people for a DUI at 10 in the morning as they do at midnight.
"Shift work. Seven o'clock in the morning is somebody's happy hour," Busching said.
As for drugs, Williston police officers went years without seeing meth labs. These days they're starting to creep up again.
"I think the meth, a lot of people use that to stay awake, especially with the long hours that they do work in the oil field. They have, the guys in the oil field, the women as well, they're up sometimes three nights in a row just so they can work and I think use the meth as an alternative to stay awake," Schaubel said.
Despite the increase in calls and arrests, officers say Williston is still a safe place to live. Brandon Saad agrees, even though he had someone break into his apartment. "I was sleeping, broke into my place, stole my laptop, golf clubs, some monies," Saad said.
The ever-circulating rumor mill doesn't exactly make Williston sound like the safe city it once was.
Saad says the wildest rumor he's heard was about someone getting thrown into a dumpster in the Walmart parking lot, but he says he knows that's not true. Officers say rumors about rapes going on in the Walmart parking lot aren't true either. They say they've had no reported cases of rapes happening there.
"The safety of like leaving your door unlocked and now you do that with fear. It's definitely not safe," said Brittany Byrom. Byrom says she no longer lets her kids walk to school alone. Williston native Taneesha Vondell doesn't think Williston is safe anymore either.
"I have pepper spray in my purse in case I need it," Vondell said. She says she hasn't had to use it.
More people in Williams County are getting concealed weapons permits. The number of permits issued last year was 550- up by almost 400 from 2010.
Busching said, "Williston's still safe. Your best weapon is your brain, is your mind. Situational awareness."
"You gotta surround yourself with good people, you know, make sure you're not traveling alone," said Taylor Rugroden.
Saad added, "I mean just like anywhere, though. Any city, you gotta know your surroundings."
Officers say despite the increase in crime, they haven't had to draw their guns more often. As for prostitution, the Williams County Sheriff says there are probably more prostitutes now than before, but it's not one of his big concerns. In the last four years, the sheriff says only three or four prostitutes have been arrested in Williams County.