Sunday, December 1, 2013

Crime on the rise in Great Plains oil field communities

Jack Healy reports in a front-page story in today's New York Times, "As Oil Floods Plains Towns, Crime Pours In."  The dateline is Sidney, Montana, population 5,191, where 42-year-old Sherry Arnold, a school teacher, was abducted during her morning jog in January, 2012, and later found murdered.  But the story also references sensational crimes in other oil field boom towns, including Dickinson, North Dakota, population 17,787, and Williston, population 18,532

Here's an excerpt:  
While the raw numbers of murders and rapes remain low, every few months seem to bring an act of violence that flares like a gas flame on the dark prairie, shaking a community and underscoring how much life here is changing. 
In Dickinson, it was the rape of an 83-year-old woman, who the police say was attacked inside her home by a 24-year-old man who had come to town looking for work. In Culbertson, Mont., it was a man who was beaten with brass knuckles by a group of drug dealers and left for dead along the side of a road. In Sidney, it was the murder in January 2012 of Sherry Arnold, the 43-year-old schoolteacher abducted during her Sunday morning jog. 
Hundreds of people searched for Ms. Arnold in frozen fields, neighborhoods and ditches until her body was found in North Dakota, near a line of trees planted as a windbreak by farmers.  
Healy quotes Sidney Mayor Bret Smelser:
Nobody knew anybody anymore.  We were a community that never locked our doors. That’s all changed.
The story also highlights the problem of domestic violence in these communities, including the shortage of shelter beds and other support services.

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