WILLISTON, N.D. – When friends and acquaintances heard I was moving from Fargo to Williston, many suggested I get a gun.
Others said I shouldn’t leave the house without pepper spray and a Taser.
One friend bluntly told me “Don’t get raped.”
While I appreciate the concern so many showed me, this is the advice I probably needed to hear:
“Amy, don’t get hit by a truck while you’re taking a photo along the side of a highway.”
Or “Amy, coveralls don’t come in ladies’ petite, so be careful not to trip on your pant leg while climbing the stairs to the floor of a rig.”
Those two scenarios are the riskiest situations I’ve been in during my first three months here in the Oil Patch.
I don’t feel any less safe in Williston than I did in Fargo. I think people’s perception of the crime in western North Dakota is worse than it really is. Yes, there have been some dramatic increases in crime statistics, but the increases in population have also been dramatic.
During the recent Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem gave a preview of his annual crime statistics report that will be out soon. He said it will show that crime in the Oil Patch is both up and down.
For example, Stenehjem said aggravated assaults in the oil-producing counties have doubled over the past four years, but such assaults have been going up across the state for the past decade. Stenehjem said the number of forcible rapes in the Oil Patch is actually down.
The challenge for law enforcement in determining the crime rate is the population is difficult to determine, he said.
Regardless of statistics, the May 10 shooting in Williston is a reminder that the former small town is starting to see some big city problems.
With that in mind, I do take the kinds of precautions I would in a big city.
I walk to my car with keys in hand and lock my car door as soon as I get inside, practices I was used to doing in Fargo.
I am extra cautious about walking to my car alone at night, and I don’t hesitate to ask someone to walk with me if I feel uncomfortable.
I have always been accustomed to locking my apartment door as soon as I get home, and I’ve even more vigilant about that now.
I am aware of two cases of people who were in my building who didn’t belong, including one case that really alarmed me.
One night, some men apparently knocked on the door of a woman and said they were maintenance and needed to look at her windows. She was smart enough not to let them in and sent them down to the building manager.
In another incident, a person described to me as someone who was on meth was wandering in the hallways.
In both cases, I heard about the incidents immediately from a neighbor. And the next time maintenance workers needed to enter our apartments, the building manager made an extra effort to let us know ahead of time and accompanied the workers so we knew they were legit.
Even though the building has security doors, I’m not letting my guard down. I appreciate that Williston seems to have a culture of people watching out for one another and alerting neighbors to potential threats.
During one of my first weeks here, I talked to Williams County Sheriff Scott Busching about the increase in people carrying concealed weapons and pepper spray.
He told me to get pepper spray if I want to, but that my best weapon is my mind.
That comment really stuck with me. As long as I remain aware of my surroundings and use common sense, life in Williston won’t be any less safe than anywhere else.