During the recent Nolan County Forward Planning committee meeting at the Sweetwater Country Club, the topic of public safety was presented by Sweetwater Chief of Police Brian Frieda.
The meeting allowed for different entities within the county to come together to learn about the potential impact and consequences of the Cline Shale oil development.
Chief Frieda's report was based mostly on his recent conversation with a police chief from North Dakota, as the northern town has also been affected by the Bakken shale development.
Their history compares to that of Sweetwater, in that prior to the boom, their population stood at around 12,000 with 21 police officers on their force. Six years later, the North Dakota town now stands at around 38,000 people and around 40 police officers.
The North Dakota police chief informed Chief Frieda that Sweetwater should make preparations now with ordinances and regulations — not too lax, but not too stringent. Additionally, the current RV ordinance being considered by the city of Sweetwater was praised.
In North Dakota, the crime activity that came to their area with the shale development came in waves. Initially, the first wave is "clean" to where new companies will bring in their top employees.
But as more activity comes, a subtle difference is seen. In its third wave, more outgoing people will come into the area, where drug and alcohol use increases.
The fourth and final wave — which the North Dakota town is currently in the midst of — brings in tougher criminals and an increase of crime such as prostitution. Chief Frieda said that Sweetwater has dealt with some light prostitution activity in the area, but no extreme situations yet.
The North Dakota police chief also noted that in their area, workers did not have a place to live, while city employees could not manage on city wages. Their solution was to construct city-owned housing for employees of the city.
Various statistics from the North Dakota town were then presented, citing increases in different crime activity.
From 2006 to 2010, 1,128 reportable vehicle accidents — which are accidents with $1,000 in damages or involve an injury or fatality — were cited. The next year, however, 1,520 crashes were reported; in 2012, the number increased to 1,732.
Also, for major crashes that involved special rescue vehicles, like the jaws of life, the numbers in North Dakota went from 22 from 2006 to 2010 to 37 for 2012.
For the value of property damages on vehicles, the five-year (2006-2010) amount was $3 million. The number doubled by the next year, with the 2012 amount standing at $6.8 million.
North Dakota also saw increases in private property damage, in that the five-year total was $138,000. In 2012, the number jumped to $308,000.
Additionally, their calls for service rose from 93,720 in the five-year period up to over 129,000 calls in 2012.
Based on the findings from North Dakota, Sweetwater could be considered as being in the midst of the first wave. However, criminal activity within the area has already seen some increase, as Chief Frieda offered some local statistics based on the fiscal year ending (FYE) in 2011, 2012 and the first part of the 2013 fiscal year.
For calls on violent offenses, 43 were recorded in 2011 for Sweetwater. The total increased by five in the next year, but this year's total — from October to March — already stands at 57 calls.
Numbers on property damage — which includes arson, burglary, theft, etc. — were at 34 at the end of 2011 and at 55 at the end of the 2012 fiscal year. For the first part of fiscal year 2013, 63 cases have already occurred.
Other local activity, such as criminal mischief, etc., stood at 518 for the FYE 2011. Last year's total was 568, with this year's numbers through March coming in at 630.
Local dope cases totaled to 24 in the FYE 2011, while 26 cases were reported a year later. However, the current numbers for the 2013 fiscal year are at 51.
Minor crashes totals from the SPD (Sweetwater Police Department) for the FYE 2011 came in at 251. This year, the number already stands at 315.
Additionally, arrests have risen over the past two years —from 481 in the FYE 2011 to 530 arrests for the first six months of this fiscal year.
Also increasing are crashes which involve DWI (driving while intoxicated) offenders, calls for service and case reports in the area. The three local detectives within the SPD are currently working on 1,003 active cases.
Another number that has unfortunately been on the rise are local cases involving CPS (Child Protective Services). The first six months of the FYE 2011 saw 19 cases; 30 cases are currently being handled for this fiscal year.
Chief Frieda noted that offenders can be deciphered between local and out-of-town criminals, and intelligence-based policing will continue to be implemented. Since the program was obtained, around $20,000 worth of merchandise has been recovered.
Furthermore, the county has also seen its share of increased crashes, even though 400 accidents were reported by DPS last year. Beyond Nolan County, nearby areas like San Angelo have seen a 3% rise in crime, as well as 17,000 calls for service in the first three months of this year.
Some discussion was held following Chief Frieda's presentation; however, the consensus among the committee was that the raw data presented was very beneficial in learning about a different aspect that will result from the oil development.
This article is the third story in a four-part series detailing the April 2013 meeting of the Nolan County Forward Planning Committee and their efforts to learn about and prepare for the Cline Shale oil development.