July 14, 2015

Crime on the rise in county

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

Even though people might think that crime in McKenzie County is slowing down as a result of the lower oil and gas prices, that just isn’t the case. McKenzie County isn’t slowing down at all. In fact, crime in Boomtown America is actually on the rise.
“Other areas may have depleted their workforce, but Watford City, Arnegard, and Alexander are still the epicenter of everything,” said Arnegard Chief of Police Troy White Owl. “So things aren’t really slowing down here. People are still under the impression that everyone is leaving and that’s just not the case here.”
According to Jake Rodenbiker, McKenzie County State’s Attorney, during the first six months of 2015, his office filed 1,110 criminal cases. And projected through the end of 2015, that would mean filing 2,240 criminal cases this year. Last year, the office filed 2,100 criminal cases.
“That is a projected 6.7 percent increase in cases filed, which would carry over into the monthly average as well,” said Rodenbiker, of the projected amount of cases that will be filed by the end of 2015. “Of course, not every case that comes to my office is filed, nor does every call for service or law enforcement investigation result in an arrest. All this leads me to conclude is that crime has increased since the beginning of 2015.”
And both McKenzie County Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger and Watford City Chief of Police Art Walgren agree - crime is definitely on the rise here.
“Crimes are up substantially this year,” says Walgren. “But we also have more officers making arrests and writing citations this year than we did last year.”
Rodenbiker agreed when he said, “There has also been an increase in the number of law enforcement officers, which probably has resulted in more arrests overall.”
There have been 4,029 calls for service in Watford City thus far for 2015, compared to 3,664 calls for the same time last year. That’s almost a difference of 400 calls from 2014 to 2015.  And during the month of June, there were 419 tickets issued alone.
When looking at statistics for 2015 year-to-date compared to last year at this same time, alarmingly there are several categories of crime that have increased in the last year. Some of the crimes include reported rapes, child abuse,  child neglect, child pornography, aggravated assaults, burglaries, stalking, motor vehicle thefts, and drug equipment violations.
Crimes that have seen at least a 25 percent increase in just one year include Child Abuse - one case compared to none last year; Attempted Murder investigations - six investigations compared to none last year; Child Neglect - one case compared to none last year; Child Pornography - one case compared to none last year; Aggravated Assaults - 12 cases compared to six last year; Stalking - six cases compared to none last year; Burglaries - 14 cases compared to nine last year; Motor Vehicle Thefts - 11 cases compared to seven last year; Drug Equipment Violations - 37 cases compared to 20 last year; Suspicious Person or Vehicle - 102 cases compared to 73 last year; Driving While Revoked or Suspended - 116 cases compared to 98 last year; Disorderly Conduct - 60 cases compared to 30 last year; Medical Assists - 75 calls compared to 50 last year; Hit and Runs - 30 cases compared to three last year; Minor in Possession/Consumption - 15 cases compared to 12 last year; Stop Sign Violations - 104 violations compared to 78 last year; Parking Warnings Issued - 115 compared to five last year; and Parking Violations/Citations - 164 citations compared to 53 last year.
“I think overall, the crime that we’re dealing with has become more complicated,” says Walgren. “It has taken more time for the officers to investigate the individual cases so we still have officers we need to add this year. But I don’t want people to think that we’re too busy to not call. I want the community to know what our department is currently doing to help, and I want our community to know that they can still call for our assistance at any time. We are not too busy to take calls and protect the citizens of Watford City.”
There are a number of factors for the recent rise in crime in not only Watford City, but in McKenzie County as a whole.
“Some might point to the proverb that idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” said Rodenbiker. “Others have said it is due to unemployment. I suspect it is both of those, but also that McKenzie County remains at the heart of the oil development even amidst the oil price downswing. The Bakken might be in a sort of physical shock where all the blood flows closer to the heart and the extremities lose their feeling. I think it is a mix of these factors and probably others. If I knew exactly what the cause was, I would try to tailor a suitable remedy. But there’s no single, consistent cause that I have identified or been told by any expert.”
“People are in survival mode,” says Schwartzenberger. “They are doing whatever they have to do to survive. The job market also seems to be a factor in the rising crime statistics. But we are adding resources to our law enforcement agencies. We are getting three more FBI agents - based out of Williston, but working our county as well. We are possibly getting six more highway patrol officers. Overall, we have more officers to make more arrests, which will help tremendously.”
“There’s definitely an increase in population here. This is a testament that we are getting more housing and people are getting more permanent housing within the city limits. We are not slowing down,” says Walgren. “There’s definitely more to come.”