GLENDIVE – Jails in the Bakken area are overbooked and law enforcement is maxed out as drug-related crime surges in Montana and North Dakota oil patch communities.

Deputies, prosecutors and local drug counselors made the case Friday for more federal help during a Glendive meeting with federal drug czar R. Gil Kerlikowske and U.S. Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont, and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. All agreed that a massive influx of some 20,000 to 30,000 well-paid oilfield workers was bringing new criminal challenges to a region so rural it’s often characterized as frontier.

Heitkamp, who was North Dakota state attorney general for eight years before being elected to the U.S. Senate, said the criminal challenges aren’t necessarily from Bakken workers, but other dangerous, opportunistic criminals attracted to oilfield incomes.

“Anytime you’re going to find illegal drugs, you’re going to find two other things. You’re going to find a lot of cash and you’re going to find a lot of guns,” Heitkamp said. “These are not good people.”

Montana U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter said that in early 2012, FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms investigators concluded that Mexican drug cartels were trafficking cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine in the Bakken area.

In one case, Mexican drug cartels are suspected of distributing roughly 145 pounds of methamphetamine, and several kilograms of cocaine and heroin in the Bakken.

State, tribal and international borders bisecting the region pose jurisdictional challenges to investigators. Many times, federal agents are the only ones with jurisdiction to cross those borders, Cotter said.

But federal agents are hard to come by, said Dawson County Sheriff Craig Anderson. Local deputies are dealing with suspects who speak Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese or Russian and no English. Simple tasks like executing a search have become difficult because with language barriers, deputies cannot always be certain consent has been given.

The people Dawson County deputies are arresting these days are not the locals that officers are used to.

“My staff will tell you they’re younger, more violent and more dangerous,” Anderson said.

Deputies investigating a methamphetamine-related murder encountered a suspect who sent his girlfriend to the opposite end of Glendive to fire off a gun and distract police so the suspect could set a car on fire and destroy evidence, Anderson said.

Bookings at the Dawson County jail have risen from 50 a day in 2008 to more than 76 a day this year, Anderson said. The county jail’s 25 beds are full and people who would normally be jailed are now turned loose. At least 15 of the 25 inmates in jail Friday were not locals, Anderson said.


Kerlikowske said more than incarceration is needed to deal with drug-related crime in the United States.

The federal government is putting more resources into prevention and treatment to stem the drug tide, he said, and has ramped up its attention to prescription drugs, the most abused drug category in the United States after marijuana. Prescription drug abuse also thrives in areas where work-related injuries are common. Montana is one of the top 10 states for illicit drug use per capita.

“We know we are not going to arrest our way out of the situation,” Kerlikowske said.

Most of the agencies weighing in on the drug challenge say more manpower is needed, from treatment programs to drug courts and police. But money is also tightening up.

Cotter told the senators that Montana public safety will be risked if law enforcement cuts scheduled for October under federal budget sequestration are realized. The federal Department of Justice budget was cut $1.6 billion in 2013 under a bipartisan agreement in Congress to reduce spending. Another $1.6 billion to $2.2 billion will be cut in federal fiscal year 2014, which begins Oct. 1.

In Montana, DOJ sequestration cuts totaled $672,000 in 2013. All federal justice agencies are under a hiring freeze. Cotter’s office is down five prosecutors. The Montana U.S. Attorney’s Office will see a $941,000 cut in the coming fiscal year.

Cuts are also in store for programs that benefit local law enforcement, he said.

“The decrease in funds will result in a decrease in agents and officers investigating cases, a decrease in cases prosecuted and local and federal levels and a decrease in criminals brought to justice,” Cotter said. “Lives of the folks living in eastern Montana will be negatively affected.”

Tester said he will take comments from Friday’s meeting back to Washington and press Kerlikowske for action.

“As soon as he gets his feet back on the ground, gets his coat and shirt ironed, were going to be talking to him. ‘All right, Gil, what do we do? What is the administration going to do. What are you going to be recommend and how can we help?’ Everybody is short-handed. There’s more demand than there are people to meet it.”

Tester and Heitkamp both said they would be turning to Bakken oil companies to help address the problem.

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(19) comments


It"s not the employers who are the problem it's our federal government who is suppose to protect our borders. Stop the drug flow at the border, and you won't have a problem about cartels in ND. We're bringing our troops home from the middle east. Hire them to protect our borders. Use drones fences land mines soldiers on the ground what ever. Enough is enough! First immigration reform should be to make certain people enter the legally. Than work on amnesty!


Ah yes, the Oil Industry brings wonderful things to Montana. And Sukey, let's not forget who is buying all the drugs in the Bakken; those good hard working folks you love so much. Just another example of GOP policies destroying the country they proclaim to love and they're just to corrupt to admit it.


You have a point, the cartels wouldn't be there unless they have a ready market, however, I know quite a few hardworking men who are there, earning a living, and they don't buy drugs. I've said this before, employer random drug testing should be a matter to be turned over to the police for prosecution, not viewed as a "privacy" issue. If the oil fields started doing this, they could get rid of the addicts and hire more of the hardworking folks that are the backbone of Montana. What on earth do you have against people who work for a living?


The workers are tested. They have bags of their friends pee attached to test when they are abusing substances. This is what my fellow Montana parent told me. He leaves his family to live in a camper which cannot be driven. He shares the camper with other workers. He works with drug addicts to support his family in Missoula.


MontanaNative? , Your name can be added to the minority of spineless matter who want to smear the reputation of hard working men and women who found good employment in the Bakken. Do you always take what your "fellow parents" tell you and then apply that rumor to every person in a large geographic region?
It's too bad you did not get an adequate education that allows you to form your own thought and opinion, but on the other hand, no one really cares what the narrow minded ones who never left the nest have to say anyway.


MontanaNative your ignorance surprises me, Have you ever been drug tested? people aren't walking around with ziplock bags full of urine to give or sell to their friends who need to have a drug screen. These tests are temperature sensitive, so if you are packing your pi$$ bag under your arm you aren't going to fare to well on your test. No doubt that the conditions can be atrocious but it is a sacrafice some people need to make to care for the needs of their family.


Abonides, you have to be one miserable person if you feel you have to stoop to the level of vilifying every person who is working the oilfields by insinuating they are all drug users.
I can see by your partisan comment that you hate the GOP, and have to assume that your claim that all workers of the Bakken are drug users is your adolescent attempt at making a political statement.
Why dont you be a real man and go to the Bakken and state your case. When they sweep your teeth up and put the pieces in a bag, you can hang them on your mantle as a reminder of the one time you walked the walk.

trad man

they are carting out illegals daily from MT but can't keep up, where is home land folks when you need them??? If you can't speak English you shouldn't be able to get a job anywhere in America, especially in a boom , this is total nonsense , the drug cartel knows English very will, all MT folks are carrying because the crime is so rampant , where is our great President and all his top dogs, at the golf course????!!

Re-Made in Montana

The companies that are operating there and making billions need to be held responsible for the increased demand on the infrastructure. My guess is that the amount they are paying for extracting these public resources is miniscule.


There's a lot of solid, stable, hardworking men over there, leaving their wives and kids to earn a decent living. Our country needs oil, we don't need drug addicts or mexican cartels operating up here. Put funding priorities ahead of all this other nonsense, these workers deserve safety. If you're an able bodied male, under the age of 60 and your family is on food stamps, CHIPS, MediCaid, etc., you are worse than a drug addict. Get off your duff, go to North Dakato, and support your family. If you're not doing this, what kind of example are you making for your welfare-supported kids? Its degrading, and you have well-paid options. If you're not a drug addict or a drunk, you can show solidarity with the other men up there leading a decent live, earning a living, and sending the money home to their families. There is no room for drugs in the Bakken.


ah you have mentioned the public assistance dead-lock. A person/family member on public assistance having the available funds for transportation housing,utilities other necessities are those funds assessed as income? Resources legitimately sought for employment considered additional income? Most have to meet income guidelines for assistance and have to report additional funds. Does this able bodied person have consequences for seeking employment and start up cost while seeking a hand up and out of poverty level income status? Some well minded low intellect entity or other unreasonable person would state two households the person is over income guidelines? I do agree with you about drugs usage. Drug addiction for many a mental illness(many times started as a result of a medical doctor prescribing without regard to the side effects), poverty is not nor does it cause mental illness. the many ethnic listed do not speak English uh huh .


I know a number of men who went up there and slept in their car or in the "man camps" they've thrown up. I know men who are carpenters who are making their fortune throwing up apartments, hotels and other infrastructure. They can't hire enough people and the pay is good. If our military can leave their families to work in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc,. so can the unemployed able-bodied...


Every boom town in American history has had an increase in crime from the scum that follow the real workers. However, this is worse now because of the Mexicans and drugs.

johnny Dollar

DUH.......Dawson County can arrest and jail the law breakers with ease, they just have to dip into some of the fat TAXES they take in. Why didn't Tom Lutey (alleged reporter) mention the Dawson county treasury........fat with hot, sweaty taxes from REAL WORKING men?

Morons........there are just few people who can or will even try to engage their brain.......take Jon Tester for instance. Pork Chop Jon screwed us all with his Obamacare vote, yet he sits here eating donuts, then drives home to work on his tractor. Solid man you have there democrats.


What tax revenue? Montanans working in ND pay MT income taxes but that money goes all over the state. You also fail to mention the Huge tax breaks given to these oil companies who are making huge profits here. They are the reason for all this new crime yet they don't pay for even one cop. Schools are overcrowded but they aren't buying one textbook. The roads are wearing out but they don't pay to fix one pothole. While and and they prostitute themselves out to these companies they will ravage the land and leave Nothing for these towns. To know what they will end up like you only have to look at butte and anaconda. Do I need to say who will be paying to cleaning up the mess?


Wait a minute, isn't this an example of the much touted GOP conservative free market utopia? Yes, you got to drink bottled water and lock your doors but hey, its a boon not only for oil but for prostitution booze and drugs! I'm sure "trickle down" is working just fine too. No overcrowded schools, overtaxed roads and services, or police. Yep, free market at its best.


Bob we have the Mexican Cartels in the Bakken because the president you worship refuses to secure our borders and wants to give amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, the illegal's are taxing our system more than the growing pains felt in the Bakken.


If food is getting sold, houses being built, people are buying new and used cars, people are spending money on tires, taxes and tea then the government is getting it's cut. The Bakken is experiencing major growing pains but with the lowest unemployment rate in the country, high wages and an eager and ever growing work force the pains will slow and the state will catch up. Drugs are a problem in the Bakken and it could be reduced by securing our borders and deporting illegal aliens. Many companies require their employees to pass mandatory drug screening and random testing. Crime is a problem over in the Bakken as it is a problem in Missoula, listen to the scanner at night, look at the jail rosters and you will see that Missoula has a big problem that can't be blamed on the Bakken.


Just more of the healthy opportunities to be had in the Bakken. Maybe Missoula should start a private prison over there. Iv'e heard there is lots of money to be made locking people up:

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