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On the Beat in Rural North Dakota
Drug Abuse, Violence Growing Problem in Safest State

audio iconListen to Howard Berkes' report.

View photo gallery Photo Gallery: Policing in Rural North Dakota

July 7, 2004 -- Although North Dakota is ranked as the safest state in the nation, some residents no longer feel as safe as they used to. Crime is becoming more violent and increasingly related to alcohol and drugs -- especially methamphetamine. NPR's Howard Berkes and producer Anne Hawke investigate for On the Beat, a three-part All Things Considered series about the ups and downs of being a police officer in America today.

Sheriff Scott Busching. Credit:Anne Hawke, NPR

Williams County, N.D.

Bio: A 22-year veteran on the force. Has served as sheriff for the past six years. He and his 11 deputies patrol a 2,000-square-mile area with a population density of four people per square mile.

Reflections on the Job:

audio icon On balancing tough, soft approaches to crime:
"We want the bad guys to know that there are some consequences for their actions… "

audio icon On the prevalence of guns:
"We just assume that everybody out here's got a gun."

audio icon On the toughest part of the job -- car accidents involving alcohol, people you know:
"When we do get them, they're particularly tragic."

audio icon On his first day on the job, and his first bust:
"We took the cocaine away from the dealer."

audio icon On advice for rookies:
"Be decent to people. Not everybody out there's a dirt bag."

A map of Williams County, N.D., county seat: Williston. Credit: Geoffrey Gaudreault, NPR

County Seat: Williston; Population (2000): 19,761

Williams County, N.D., is almost as far north and west as North Dakota gets. Oilfields, farms and ranches dot the landscape. Cows outnumber people.

Crime in Williams County, N.D., in 2002

A comparison of crime rates in Williams County, N.D., and the US as a whole for 2002. Credit: Geoffrey Gaudreault, NPR

* Total Crime refers to the Total Crime Index, which is not an absolute measure but rather reflects the number of offenses per 100,000 inhabitants. The Crime Index allows law enforcement agencies to compare crime rates across the nation.

Source: North Dakota Office of Attorney General 2002 Report

Drug Arrests in North Dakota, 1993-2002

Drug arrests in North Dakota, 1993-2002. Credit: Geoffrey Gaudreault, NPR

North Dakota has seen a sharp increase in drug-offense arrests over the last decade. In 1993, the state made 643 drug arrests. That number rose to 1,752 in 2002.

Source: North Dakota Office of Attorney General 2002 Report

Related NPR Stories

More Meth Labs Move Into the Woods

Web Resources

Web Site for Williams County, N.D.

Williams County Map

Safe Communities: Profile of Sheriff Busching