North Dakota prosecutors let the U.S. drug czar know Tuesday that federal resources in the Bakken are appreciated, but more help is needed.
Facing a room of law officers in the Ward County Courthouse, White House Office of Drug Control Policy acting director Michael Botticelli said he got the message.
“We hope to take back what we hear today to continue our efforts,” Botticelli said. “The federal government does best when we listen and understand.”
He said the federal government’s policies and programs do best when resources are used to back up the local efforts. He indicated support for the strong partnerships that the state’s law enforcement community stressed.
“There’s a cooperative effort here in North Dakota that, I think, is unparalleled in the nation,” Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said. “We know that it is absolutely critical that we all work on these issues together.”
He said North Dakota is stepping up to the plate, putting more cops on the street. His office plans to ask the 2015 Legislature for three new drug task force agents as well as other personnel to address human trafficking and $20 million for local law enforcement assistance grants.
“We need to make sure we have a national policy and make sure that everyone understands that the fight against human trafficking and against drugs is one that needs to involve all levels of law enforcement,” Stenehjem said. “We have to nip this problem in the bud. It will only get worse if we don’t pay attention to it.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., invited Botticelli to the state, having previously invited former drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, who visited in July 2013. She said a coordinated enforcement approach is necessary to avoid drug traffickers simply moving from one area to another.
“We have to have more federal presence,” she said. “Unless we work cooperatively in the entire state, we really can’t get a handle on it. The challenge for local law enforcement here is jurisdictional so we need the federal resources. We need the cooperative agreements.”
U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon said he sees that federal agencies are responding. The FBI went from one agent in Minot to five, and the state is at a record number of FBI agents, he said.
Charles Addington, deputy associate director of the Division of Drug Enforcement with the BIA in Oklahoma, mentioned the results being seen with more agents in North Dakota. Among new placements include a BIA agent in Bismarck and in Minot and the move of an existing agent from another part of the country to the Turtle Mountain Reservation.
Purdon cited a caseload increase from 126 to 336 defendants on federal charges since 2009, which he credited to the presence of more federal agents. Successes have included breaking up gang and drug cartel activity in Williston, Dickinson and on the Fort Berthold Reservation.
Still, Purdon said, “We need more help.” Much of that help is needed at the local level, he said.
He noted the number of state court drug arrests increased 40 percent in oil-producing counties in one year.
“This is a real challenge, and it’s our responsibility in law enforcement and government to respond to this,” he said.
Heitkamp added that the challenge isn’t just securing new positions but securing the people to fill them. She said she has invited a representative of the Office of Personnel Management to come to North Dakota in September to see first hand the challenges the state faces with housing shortages and high costs in western North Dakota. She is advocating for a salary differential to agents.
“You guys are doing great work,” she told the law officers present. “But we need the resources and we are going to try to find the resources.”
Law officers attended Tuesday’s event from Customs and Border Patrol, Homeland Security, FBI, U.S. Marshal’s Service, Minot Police and Ward County Sheriff’s Office. One county officer asked for permanency of Drug Enforcement Agency personnel in Minot. Botticelli responded that part of the reason for his visit is to have that conversation.
Botticelli also released the White House’s 2014 Northern Border Counternarcotics Strategy, which follows the July 9 release of the White House National Drug Control Strategy and for the first time specifically mentions emerging threats and needs in the Bakken region.
The strategy has provisions that include using federal resources more efficiently to optimize prosecution, improving coordination between federal and tribal law enforcement and working with border communities to develop prevention, treatment and law enforcement partnerships.
Drug treatment services are inadequate to meet the need in North Dakota, and Botticelli singled it out as an area that his office wants to see tackled.