In an ad released last month, liberal gubernatorial candidate Ryan Taylor claimed North Dakota’s oil boom is hurting North Dakota’s children and diminishing our safety.
Taylor’s campaign is out with a new ad today, and while this one (entitled “Locks”) isn’t nearly as hostile as the last one, it still makes a point about rising crime, suggesting that North Dakotans are locking their doors now when they didn’t feel the need previously.
Taylor is fond of telling this story on the campaign trail. He talks of speaking to fearful North Dakotans living in the western part of the state who have begun locking their doors. But I wonder what the cause of that is.
Is it really that western North Dakota is less safe? Or is it that sensationalist media reports, and point-scoring politicians like Taylor, have made western North Dakotans feel less safe?
We all hear the stories about crowded western prisons, and western courts packed full of cases. And, to be sure, the number of crime incidents in oil producing counties is increasing. But then, so is the population.
Some western communities are growing so fast in population that getting an accurate count is impossible. The 2011 US Census population number for Williams County, in the heart of the oil boom, is 24,374 souls. Yet, North Dakota employment statistics list just the number of civilian workers in Williams County at 36,538, a number that itself has doubled in the last two years.
That speaks to huge growth in population, and with more population comes more incidents of crime. But crime rates are actually trending lower than they were in oil-producing counties ten years ago.
Does more people, combined with sensational media reports and political point-scoring, mean more fear among the public? Sure. Does it mean the public is actually less safe? Not really.