Grants Will Help Fight Oil Patch Crime But Not Pay For More Officers

Stark County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Dean Franchuk, right, and Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy attend a meeting Tuesday, July 2, 2013, in Watford City, N.D., to discuss Oil Patch law enforcement needs. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WATFORD CITY, N.D. — Oil Patch law enforcement will have access to $16.6 million in grants to fight crime in rapidly growing communities, but the dollars can’t be used for one of the things sheriffs say they need most – more officers.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem met with sheriffs, police chiefs and other officers Tuesday in Watford City to outline how the dollars will be awarded.

The Board of University and School Lands has said the grants are not designed to fund personnel because the dollars are one-time funding, said Stenehjem, who serves as a member on the board.

Billings County Sheriff Dave Jurgens said he thinks agencies should be able to use the grant dollars to hire more officers.

“If you get vehicles and equipment, somebody’s got to run it,” Jurgens said.

He said every agency in the Oil Patch has seen increases in arrests from 200 percent to 1,000 percent.

“We need this just to try and keep up,” Jurgens said.

The focus of the grants will be to reduce organized crime, drug trafficking, prostitution and other criminal activity that is now prevalent in oil-producing counties, Stenehjem said.

“The challenges out here in the Oil Patch have been huge,” Stenehjem told the officers. “And the kinds of issues that you’re seeing are things, for most of you who have been around awhile, never expected to see.”

The funding, approved by the Legislature for 2013-15, consists of $7 million for sheriff’s offices in oil-producing counties and $9.6 million in criminal justice grants to agencies affected by the oil boom.

The attorney general’s drug and violent crime committee will make recommendations on the grant awards to the Land Board. Priorities include equipment, housing and rent assistance, vehicles, training and overtime, Stenehjem said.

Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy said his department has immediate needs for equipment, vehicles and personnel.

New Town Police Chief Art Walgren said he plans to apply for grant funding for a police dog to help fight a growing drug problem.

Stenehjem suggested that grant applications include a local funding match of 25 percent to make the dollars go further and to show buy-in from the communities.

Williams County Sheriff Scott Busching said he didn’t like the idea of requiring a local match and said it may not work with local budgeting cycles.

“These cities and counties out here already have a significant buy-in to the money that’s going to Bismarck,” said Busching, referring to oil tax revenue.

Applications for emergency grants are due July 12. Emergency funds could be for equipment or resources that are needed to get officers on the street right away, Stenehjem said.

Applications for other grant requests are due July 26 and the committee will meet in September to review those.

Stenehjem emphasized that agencies take a regional approach to solving the issues. If the grants have results, the Legislature may provide more funding in two years, he said.

“If it works and if we see a reduction in crime or if we see an increase in arrests, I have every confidence that they’ll be responsive again,” Stenehjem said.