Policing The Oil Patch A Stressful But Satisfying Job, Study Shows

WILLISTON, N.D. – Policing the Oil Patch is creating high levels of stress for officers in western North Dakota, but most say they still love their jobs, a North Dakota State University study found.

Carol Archbold, associate professor of criminal justice, interviewed more than 100 officers and deputies about how rapid population growth driven by the oil boom has affected their work.

“Policing is stressful the way it is, but then you throw in this ever-changing work environment, and that would really put a monkey wrench into things,” said Archbold, who will discuss her study today at NDSU.

Archbold and doctoral students Tod Dahle and Rachel Jordan interviewed officers from eight law enforcement agencies from Williams, Ward, McKenzie and Dunn counties between October 2012 and March 2013.

Some of the findings include:

— Four of the eight agencies saw calls for service triple since 2008.

— 74 percent of officers and deputies said they deal with high levels of stress, many of them attributing that to the increase in calls for service and others to a perceived increase in danger.

— 80 percent reported they are satisfied with their jobs, reporting they are happy to make a difference in their communities and enjoy responding to a wide range of calls.

— 65 percent of officers interviewed moved from Minnesota for their current jobs. Many new hires said they’re benefiting for the experience they can gain in western North Dakota, while longtime officers said they fear high turnover after the new hires gain experience.

One frustration expressed by officers is that they don’t have the same level of interaction with local schools and businesses they did before the oil boom. Eighty-one percent said their interactions now are primarily reactive in nature rather than positive outreach.

“They just don’t have the time to do that anymore,” Archbold said.

While law enforcement agencies are managing the increased workload by offering overtime, departments will need to continue adding more officers to keep up with the population growth, Archbold said.

“In the long run, if they don’t add more people, they’re going to have a lot of problems with retention and burnout,” she said.

Archbold said a recent decision by the Board of University and School Lands to authorize $8.8 million in grants for law enforcement, including hiring 28 personnel, is a great step to alleviating some of the challenges identified in her study.

Officers interviewed also identified a need for more affordable housing, as well as vehicles and equipment.

Agencies in western North Dakota have formed regional partnerships and are working together better than what research shows happens in other parts of the country, Archbold said. Eighty-five percent of officers said their interactions with other law enforcement agencies in the region are better since the oil boom began.

“Often times there’s territorial issues, but I found that here a lot of that has gone away because they need each other’s help,” Archbold said.

If you go:

What: “Policing the Patch” presentation by Carol Archbold, North Dakota State University associate professor of criminal justice

When: Noon to 1 p.m. today

Where: NDSU Memorial Union Arikara Room

Info: Free and open to the public.

The full report can be found here under Archbold’s contact information.