Posted 7/20/11 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
“What’s not going on here in the way of crime,” says Slade Herfindahl, Watford City Police chief. “From burglaries to civil and domestic disturbances to vehicle stops, we’re seeing it all. And the number of incidents is going through the roof.”
According to Herfindahl, the number of case reports responded to by the Watford City Police Department has almost doubled in the first six months of 2011, increasing from 182 in the first six months of 2010 to 350 in the same time frame in 2011.
And according to Herfindahl, the increase in crime activity is directly related to the increase in population.
By Herfindahl’s estimates, there are at least 3,500 people now living within a one-mile radius of Watford City. And more people simply means more activity for the police department.
“We have a lot more transient people here now than we had a year ago,” states Herfindahl. “I’ve seen over 30 different state license plates on a single day in town, and with more people, the department is seeing more vehicle stops and more crime.”
In the first six months of 2011, the Watford City Police Department has responded to 1,561 calls for service compared to 849 a year ago, an increase of nearly 84 percent.
“It’s the volume of crime that worries me the most,” states Herfindahl. “This is a small, rural community and the amount of crime here is unbelievable.”
According to Herfindahl, who has been in law enforcement since 1995, the level of criminal activity he is seeing in the Watford City area is more than he has seen anywhere else he has worked.
“What we are seeing here in the way of crime is double what was happening in Grafton when I worked there,” stated Herfindahl. “And Grafton is a community with twice the population of Watford City.”
And that workload is starting to take a toll on Herfindahl and his staff.
“My young cops are really getting an experience here,” states Herfindahl. “My officers are handling more calls for service per officer than do the police officers in Fargo. And those calls range from dogs at large to responding to domestic disturbances.”
And Herfindahl doesn’t see law enforcement activity slowing down anytime soon which is stretching his six-man department to the limit.
“As more area is annexed into the city limits, we are only going to see more and more calls for service,” states Herfindahl. “Even though I still have one officer position left to fill in the department, we don’t have enough staff as the city continues to grow both in size and in population.”
While Herfindahl and the Watford City Police Department are doing their part to make sure that Watford City residents are safe and secure, Herfindahl points out that city residents need to be taking steps to make sure that they are not victims of crime.
“People need to be locking their homes and cars, and they need to be more proactive to prevent becoming victims of certain crimes,” states Herfindahl.
While locking their homes and cars may be a foreign thought to area residents not used to doing so in the past, Herfindahl says it’s a change that they need to make.
“Every vehicle theft that we have had in the past year has been when a vehicle was left unattended and running,” states Herfindahl. “To do that today is just like hanging a sign on your car saying, ‘take me’.”
In spite of all of the law enforcement activity that is filling the days and nights for the Watford City Police Department, Herfindahl is the first to say that there is more that needs to be done, especially in the enforcement of drugs and alcohol.
“I’m not happy with our department’s response to drug activity,” states Herfindahl. “We’re not making enough arrests. But we just don’t have enough staff or time to adequately seek it out. It takes a lot of manpower to put together a good drug case, and right now we just don’t have the time.”
Another area of concern that Herfindahl has is in the area of alcohol use by minors.
“I’m frustrated by the community’s attitude toward alcohol enforcement when it comes to underage drinking,” states Herfindahl. “It bothers me that we have minors being able to purchase alcohol, that people bootleg alcohol for minors and that we have parents who host alcohol parties where minors are present.”
But even with all of the challenges facing the Watford City Police Dept., Herfindahl doesn’t think everything is bad.
“Watford City has completely changed in the year and half that I’ve been here,” states Herfindahl. “The town is booming and bustling, which is not all bad. It’s better to see a town growing than to be in the middle of a recession like some other towns in North Dakota and the nation.”