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As FBI opens office in Williston, tribal leader says crime ‘killing our people’

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Fox

Three Affiliated Tribes chairman Mark Fox testifies in opposition to HB1476 to members of the House Finance and Taxation Committee involving the oil extraction tax on April 20, 2015 at the state Capitol in Bismarck. When FBI Director James Comey visited a northwest North Dakota Indian reservation Monday, the tribal chairman didn’t sugar-coat the crime problems facing the community.

NEW TOWN – When FBI Director James Comey visited a northwest North Dakota Indian reservation Monday, the tribal chairman didn’t sugar-coat the crime problems facing the community.

“The situation of excess crime on Fort Berthold is literally killing our people and tearing our people apart,” said Mark Fox, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.

Comey met with tribal officials, law enforcement and North Dakota’s senators on Monday to hear about the challenges facing the reservation in the heart of the Bakken.

Comey also visited Williston on Monday to participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the FBI office that recently opened there, the first new FBI resident agency to open in decades.

In New Town, Comey said the additional three agents and support staff assigned to Williston should free up other FBI resources to focus more on Fort Berthold.

“We all acknowledge it’s probably not going to make enough of a difference,” Comey said during his first visit to a Great Plains Indian reservation. “The next question is, what more can we do?”

Crime at Fort Berthold has increased during the past seven years, said Fox, adding that the reservation is in a “drug epidemic.”

“Here at Fort Berthold, it’s gotten to a point where we’re getting actually a little bit desperate,” he said.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has been advocating for FBI agents to be stationed at Fort Berthold and other reservations.

“This isn’t a problem that’s unique to Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara,” Heitkamp said. “It’s complicated by all the money, it’s complicated by all the economic opportunity, and it’s a step above, but it’s not isolated here. The need to have a focus not just on northwest North Dakota, but really all across Indian Country, is, to me, pretty critical.”

Comey said FBI officials will monitor what effect the new resources in Williston have on fighting crime at Fort Berthold and determine what the next step would be.

One of his initial reactions Monday was to reinvigorate an FBI Safe Trails Task Force in North Dakota, which Comey said used to exist in the area. The task forces focus on combating the growth of crime in Indian Country through collaboration with other federal, state, local and tribal agencies.

“There really ought to be one in this area given the demand, given the number of people who are suffering, especially given the drug plague,” Comey said. “I’m walking away thinking we’ve got to push hard to see if we can get one done.”

Attorney Chris Myers called it “remarkable” that the presence of FBI in the Bakken has tripled since officials began pushing for more resources. Myers said strong collaboration among agencies will be key.

“We can yell and scream all day long for more resources, but at some point we only get so much,” Myers said. “Then we have to do with what we have.”

Sen. John Hoeven said getting additional FBI agents stationed permanently in Williston will help the entire state, not just the northwest. He said he advocating for even more federal resources, including more prosecutors.

“We’re continuing to make the case that we need more resources given the growth and the development in the energy patch,” Hoeven said.

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