Surge in crime committed by newly arrived workers accompanies eastern Wyoming oil boom

Law enforcement officials in east-central Wyoming say they're seeing more crimes committed by workers newly arrived to the area's booming oil fields and don't have enough police and jail space to handle the problem.

Serious crimes including aggravated assault and larceny are up 17 percent in the Douglas area since 2009, according to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation.

Emergency calls are up 9 percent from last year. Drug arrests are up from 37 in 2009 to 64 last year. And police were involved in two vehicle pursuits in September — the first in the city in three years, according to the Douglas Police Department.

"The industry is not picky," police Sgt. Matthew Schmidt said. "They need people who can physically stand the job, so they're not concerned about their conviction records."

The increase is nothing like the violent crime that spiked in North Dakota communities after oil production in the Bakken field surged several years ago.

Still, local law enforcement agencies already are showing signs of strain. The Douglas Police Department is short two officers as city employees quit to work in the oil fields, the Casper Star-Tribune reports ( ). Meanwhile, the Converse County Sheriff's Office is sending prisoners to Wheatland because their numbers exceed the number of local jail cells.

Many people Schmidt arrests already have felony convictions, ranging from a fourth domestic battery to multiple DUI arrests.

Schmidt said he tends to see much higher numbers when transient workers breathe into his breathalyzer. Their blood-alcohol concentrations sometimes reach 0.3 percent, more than four times the legal limit for driving, he said.

In one of the recent pursuits, the driver topped 100 mph before flipping his car in a construction zone. In the other, a drunken driver destroyed 30 feet of fence near Douglas High School.

Both pursuits involved energy industry workers, Schmidt said.

"I think a lot of them, they know they're going to be here for a little while, so they're decent," he said. "There are others that come in and know they're not going to be here for a while and there's no reason for them to have a stake in this community."


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune,