Drug Task Force expands
By Chris Erickson
Increases in drug use and drug-related crime in the state since the start of the latest oil boom has made local and state law enforcement officials take notice. At the local level, a task force recently expanded to help deal with problems that narcotics were creating around Lake Sakakawea’s adjacent counties.
The effort to cross deputize Mercer and McLean counties started about eight years back. At that time the two Sheriff’s Departments were under a state task force. According to Mercer County Sheriff Dean Danzeisen, the counties weren’t seeing drug interdiction at that time under the task force that reflected the needs of the time - no more than 30 cases per year.
“[McLean County Sheriff] Don Charging, myself, the Mercer County Commission, the McLean County Commission, Hazen and Beulah [police] - we all created the Mercer-McLean County Narcotics Task Force and Violent Crime Task Force,” Danzeisen said. “As that progressed we put on three detectives in Mercer County, three detectives in McLean County and once we started investigated these crimes we started seeing up to 200 cases of narcotics or violent crimes per year.”
That number increased over time as oil exploration and development hit the western portion of North Dakota, and in some cases, Mercer and McLean. According to South Central District Court records for those two counties, there have been rising instances of charges including possession of controlled substances (marijuana, methamphetamine, and cocaine), ingesting of a controlled substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia, among others, in the region in the last five years.
In Mercer County, the drug-related misdemeanor count was 49 in 2009, 27 in 2010, 22 in 2011, 37 in 2012, 64 in 2013, and 31 so far this year. The drug-related misdemeanors were a smaller portion of overall misdemeanor charges than on the felony side.
In 2009, 10 out of the 21 felony listings in Mercer County were drug-related, down to two out of 16 the next year. In 2011 felonies spiked in the county, with 26 out of 54 felonies relating to drugs. Ten out of 37 felony listings were drug-related in 2012. In 2013 there was a massive increase in that amount, with a notable increase in drug-related charges. That year 84 out of 162 felony charges were specifically for drugs. So far this year that had trended downward, with 38 out of 93 court listings showing as felonies.
In McLean County during that same time frame, drug-related misdemeanor count was 53 in 2009, 23 in 2010, 27 in 2011, 39 in 2012, 105 in 2013, and 88 so far this year, a similar small percentage when weighed against overall misdemeanors. Felony listings were similar to Mercer County, with 40 in 2009, 13 in 2010, 13 in 2011, 39 in 2012, 91 last year, and 94 so far this year.