- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 9, 2016

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - Court cases in Williams County have declined as energy activity has slowed, but caseloads in the oil patch county remain heavy.

About 2,100 criminal cases are expected to be filed this year in the northwest North Dakota county, down from a peak of more than 2,750 filings in 2012, the Williston Herald (https://bit.ly/2b3b5xK ) reported.

Civil cases last year topped out at more than 3,200, and they are projected to dip this year to an estimated total of 3,182.

As the slumping energy industry continues to shrink the population in the county, police officers have been able to devote more time to tasks such as traffic stops, which have led to longer-term investigations into drug activity and burglaries.

State’s Attorney Marlyce Wilder said that while felony and misdemeanor crimes have declined overall, theft cases remain steady as people who have lost their jobs in the oil field struggle.

“Some people who lost their jobs had the ability to leave and someplace to go. Others did not have those options, stayed, are unemployed, and have lots of time on their hands,” Wilder said. “If drugs were in their lives previously, they are still in their lives, only with fewer supervisors to watch them and test them. Since they are no longer working, they steal to support their habit.”

The clerk of court’s office also is short-staffed, said Carolyn Probst, court administrator for the state’s Northwest and North Central judicial districts. By fall, the office will have three open positions that can’t be filled without state Supreme Court approval due to state budget cuts prompted by the oil slowdown.

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Information from: Williston Herald, https://www.willistonherald.com

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