North Dakota Oil Patch No Wild West, Researcher Says

Carol Archbold

WILLISTON, N.D. — Police activity is busier in western North Dakota, but it’s not the Wild West, says a researcher studying the impact of the oil boom on law enforcement.

Carol Archbold, a North Dakota State University criminal justice associate professor, said interviews with more than 100 officers in the Oil Patch revealed a misconception about crime in western North Dakota.

“There’s a perception by people in the state and elsewhere that we have sort of a Wild West going on out there, with massive amounts of violent crime,” Archbold said.

In reality, however, the violent crimes are not increasing as steadily as people think, but police are seeing more calls for alcohol- and drug-related crimes, traffic incidents and disorderly conduct, she said.

“People are mistaking the increase in calls for service for increase in violent crime, and they’re not the same thing,” she said.

Archbold and doctoral students Tod Dahle and Rachel Jordan interviewed officers from eight law enforcement agencies from Williams, Ward, McKenzie and Dunn counties.

The study will not be complete until later this year, but Archbold said one trend she’s noticed from the interviews is that much of the increase in workload for police can be attributed to alcohol.

Archbold experienced this firsthand when her car was struck by a drunk driver while she was parked in Minot conducting an interview. The driver fled and the deputy Archbold had just finished interviewing chased him.

“I can laugh about it now,” Archbold said. “It’s just really ironic.”

Departments said a lack of staffing causes stress and fatigue for the officers working long hours. Many agencies said they had the resources to hire more people, but didn’t have the ability to provide housing, Archbold said.

Despite the demands of the job, officers said they still love the job, she said.

“These are really dedicated people and they’re really hard workers,” she said.