Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Sep 12 2014

Heitkamp Launches Strong & Safe Communities Initiative to Focus on Better Protecting North Dakota Families

Includes Task Force to Look at New Challenges Facing North Dakota, including Crime, Trafficking & Safety that Need More Attention

Senator’s Task Force Will Provide Recommendations to Keep State Strong and Families Safe Long into the Future

 FARGO, N.D. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today launched her new Strong & Safe Communities Initiative to help address some of the emerging challenges facing the state by bringing a greater focus to keeping North Dakota’s communities strong and families safe in their homes.

Heitkamp specifically announced her new Strong & Safe Communities Task Force – which she will lead – that is comprised of North Dakotans from across the state who have strong understandings of many of the new safety challenges the state faces – such as increases in drug-related crimes, human trafficking, infrastructure stress, and the movement of crude by rail through North Dakota towns, as well as other issues. The group will work together to offer recommendations for a five-year plan to help make sure North Dakota’s communities remain strong and safe for decades to come by addressing these issues head on.

North Dakota has reaped major rewards from the state’s energy boom. The state has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, about 27,000 open jobs, and innovation, research, and development taking place across North Dakota. With the state’s unprecedented population and economic growth, especially in the Bakken, it also faces some new law enforcement, border security, infrastructure, and safety challenges. Heitkamp has already been working to address these issues, and through her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative she aims to raise more awareness about them and provide a tangible plan to address them moving forward so North Dakotans are safe in their homes and the state’s communities remain strong.

“North Dakota’s energy boom has made our state the envy of the country – we have more jobs, economic and population growth, and innovative research happening every day,” said Heitkamp. “Like any growing pains, it has also caused some new challenges that our state is still working through. Much of that came to a head last December when a crude oil train derailed in Casselton. Through my new Strong and Safe Communities Initiative, I’m working to reinforce a goal that I have long talked about and that the incident in Casselton reminded many of us: North Dakota’s top priority must be to keep our families safe and protected in their homes and communities. Everything else comes second.”

Even before the derailment of a train carrying crude oil in Casselton, Heitkamp has been fighting to increase safety for North Dakota families. She has been a leader in working to combat human trafficking, improve rail safety, reduce drug crime, support challenges in Indian Country, boost economic development in rural communities, and expand the state’s infrastructure to support the population growth. Through her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative, she aims to draw a stronger focus to each of these areas and offer reforms to better serve North Dakotans. Click here for more details about the extensive work Heitkamp has already done to address each of these challenges (also below).

Heitkamp’s new Strong and Safe Communities Task Force will be comprised of the below list of North Dakotans who have strong understandings of the following challenges facing the state:

 Transportation of crude oil by rail

  • Steve Dirksen, City of Fargo Fire Chief
  • Bill Fahlsing, Stark County Director of Emergency Services

Human trafficking and domestic violence

  • Christina Sambor, Coordinator at FUSE (Force to end hUman Sexual Exploitation)
  • Anna Frissell, Executive Director of the Red River Valley Children’s Advocacy Center
  • Darianne Johnson, Executive Director of the Domestic Violence & Rape Crisis Center in Dickinson
  • Erin Prochnow, Executive Director of the YWCA Cass Clay
  • Janelle Moos, Executive Director of the North Dakota Council on Abused Women Services

Crime and drug crime

  • Michael Kirby, Grand Forks Acting Police Chief
  • Art Walgren, Watford City Police Chief

Indian Country challenges

  • Diane Johnson, Chief Judge at MHA Nation
  • Cynthia Lindquist, President of Cankdeska Cikana Community College

Economic development and community impact

  • Gene Veeder, McKenzie County’s Economic Development Director
  • Dawn Keeley, Executive Director of the Red River Regional Council
  • Brad Gibbens, Deputy Director and Assistant Professor, Center for Rural Health, UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences
  • Sherry Adams, Executive Officer of Southwestern District Health Unit

“We can make sure North Dakota’s communities remain safe and strong while still enabling our state and the U.S. to continue to develop our vast array of energy resources,” added Heitkamp. “By working together on my new task force, we can build a plan to help prepare North Dakota towns to handle and address these challenges well into the future, and make sure every North Dakotan is protected.”

To view more details about Heitkamp’s Strong & Safe Communities Initiative, visit Heitkamp’s new webpage by clicking here.

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Senator Heitkamp’s Work to Keep North Dakota’s Communities Strong and Safe

Over the past year and a half, Heitkamp has already taken a comprehensive approach to address the new challenges North Dakota faces as the state experiences rapid population growth and development. With her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative, she will work to draw a stronger focus to these areas and offer recommendations to help make sure North Dakota’s communities remain safe and can support the growth they are seeing for decades to come. Below are some of the challenges the state faces which Heitkamp has already been working to address:

Transportation of Crude Oil by Rail

Since the train derailment in Casselton, North Dakota in December 2013, Heitkamp has worked tirelessly to push for improvements to rail safety, and make sure North Dakotans and their communities are safe from potential rail incidents. Because of the energy boom in North Dakota and the heavy reliance on rail as a mode of transportation, small communities are seeing up to nine trains come through per day with more than 100 linked crude oil cars per train. In June, Heitkamp introduced her RESPONSE Act to better prepare emergency personnel in North Dakota and across the country tasked with responding to potential incidents, such as derailments of trains carrying materials like crude oil. Since the derailment, Heitkamp also consistently pressured the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to release updated rules to help prevent future derailments and to provide regulatory certainty to producers, shippers, and the railroads. Many of these rules were finally released in July.

Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence

Since the fall of 2013, Heitkamp has been a leader in Congress working to combat human trafficking by holding Senate hearings, introducing legislation to crack down on human trafficking and support victims, setting up training sessions for North Dakotans on identifying human trafficking, and coordinating with lead advocacy organizations to raise awareness about this problem. Human trafficking is a growing problem in North Dakota, especially in the western part of the state. Around the world, it is estimated that more than 20 million individuals are trafficked for sex or labor – including an estimated 100,000 children in the sex trade alone in the United States. Heitkamp’s efforts to combat human trafficking builds on her work as North Dakota’s Attorney General to combat domestic violence as she implemented the initial Violence Against Women Act at a state level, and helped pass the reauthorization of the law right when she joined the Senate.

Crime and Drug Crime

Heitkamp has pushed for strong action to help reduce the rise of crime and drug crime in North Dakota, particularly in the oil patch. She brought the previous White House Drug Czar to the state in July 2013 during which he pledged to dedicate federal resources to address crime and drug crime in western North Dakota. He followed up with more support for the area – including making Williams County eligible for more federal funds to help rein in drug abuse and crime. In August, Heitkamp brought the current Drug Czar to North Dakota where he committed to continuing to address the growing drug problems in the state. Heitkamp also sought to expand access to drug take-back sites to accommodate the growing problem of prescription drug abuse in North Dakota.

Indian Country Challenges

With the tremendous growth throughout North Dakota, many of the state’s Indian reservations -- particularly MHA Nation which sits over part of the oil patch – have faced unique issues and Heitkamp has been working to improve safety on reservations, particularly for Native American children. Heitkamp has worked to bring together law enforcement from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and local police forces, including at Turtle Mountain in March, to discuss jurisdictional issues as drugs and crime have increased in the state and on reservations. She has brought a needed focus to the problem of Native American women and children getting caught in human trafficking rings and has sought more resources to help them get out of these terrible situations. In September 2013, Heitkamp brought witnesses to a Senate hearing she called for to testify specifically about these problems, and she continues to meet with Native American advocacy groups about how to stop human trafficking in Indian Country.

Economic Development and Community Impact

As North Dakota’s population rapidly grows, the state has experienced serious strains on much of its housing, transportation, and water infrastructure. Heitkamp is working to help the state’s communities handle many of these new challenges so they remain strong. She has advocated for the expansion of roads to handle the massive increase in traffic – particularly in the western part of the state on US-85. Heitkamp has fought to expand water systems to keep up with the state’s population increase so they continue to provide clean water. She has also sought more access to mental health services across the state. And Heitkamp has pushed for more affordable housing in North Dakota to help alleviate the state’s housing crisis. Additionally, through her leadership on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Heitkamp has pushed for initiatives to strengthen rural economies in communities across North Dakota.

Border Security  

In her role as a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Heitkamp is working to improve border conditions and security, particularly at the northern border. North Dakota has 17 border crossings, many of which are small. The state is experiencing many challenges with border crossings, including for human trafficking, illegal trade, illegal immigration, and national security threats. In June, Heitkamp held a meeting with Border Patrol agents, local sheriffs, police chiefs, Bureau of Indian Affairs Law Enforcement, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents to talk about these border challenges. Heitkamp also helped the White House Drug Czar announce his new national drug control strategy, which aims to provide stronger coordination between the U.S. and Canada to prevent the flow of drugs and criminals between our borders.

Contact Senator Heitkamp's press office at press@heitkamp.senate.gov