December 11, 2009
WEST BURLINGTON TOWNSHIP - Over the last year or so, several workers in the natural gas industry have been incarcerated for DUI at the Bradford County jail, and a couple of them have committed protection-from-abuse violations in the county, said Bradford County Sheriff Steven Evans.
One worker in the natural gas industry has been incarcerated at the jail on a felony charge in an assault case, said Peter Quattrini Jr., the deputy warden at the jail.
Workers in the natural gas industry can also become victims of crime, said Bradford County District Attorney Daniel Barrett, who cited a recent case where maids stole prescription medication from a Bradford County motel room whose occupant was a worker in the gas industry.
Faced with incidents like these, the Bradford County District Attorney's Office has now begun to take steps to make sure that the impact that the gas drilling industry is having on local crime and law enforcement is documented, Barrett said.
"I will send out a memorandum to various law enforcement agencies asking them to keep some sort of record of the impact of gas drilling on their resources," Barrett announced at the Bradford County Prison Board's meeting on Thursday. "If we keep track, maybe we'll be able to show a need for more resources."
Barrett said that in many cases, local police do not inquire whether a defendant is connected to the gas industry. But now he said he would like police to find out if there is such a connection.
Barrett said he will also ask the four magisterial district judges in the county to begin keeping records on the impact of the gas industry.
By documenting the impact that the gas industry is having on crime locally, the county may be able to secure federal or state grants to provide more resources for local police departments, Barrett said.
The documentation could also help convince the Pennsylvania Legislature to provide revenue from the proposed gas severance tax to counties and municipalities to address crime and other needs that stem from the growing gas industry, prison board members said.
Since there has been an increase in the local population due to the gas drilling industry, it is only to be expected that some of the local crimes are going to be committed by workers in the gas industry or by people coming to the county to look for work in the industry, Evans said.
"We have a population increase, and it will continue, I assume, far into the future," he said.
The effort to document the impact of the natural gas industry on local crime does not mean that there is "something negative about the gas industry," Barrett said, adding that the gas industry is welcome in the county.
The documentation is merely being done to an answer an "economic question" of whether the gas drilling industry has had "an effect on our needs and resources," Barrett said.
Barrett said he is trying to get the record-keeping in place by Jan. 1, 2010.
There have been 16 to 18 people in the gas drilling industry incarcerated at the Bradford County jail for various crimes, ranging from summary offenses to the felony assault case, said Quattrini, who added that he believes the 16 to 18 commitments to the jail occurred within the past year.
To put those numbers in context, there are 1,100 people committed to the jail each year, Evans said.
Barrett also pointed out at the meeting that family members of workers in the natural gas industry can also become victims and perpetrators of crime, as can unemployed people who come to the area searching for work in the natural gas industry.
Barrett said the state police are concerned about the local impact of the natural gas industry and whether it will require them to commit more resources to the area.
Chesapeake Energy Corp. has also said it wants citizens to notify the company if they see a Chesapeake employee, or an employee of a contractor of Chesapeake, doing something wrong, so that Chesapeake can "take care of" the matter, according to McLinko. To that end, Chesapeake is encouraging citizens to write down the license plate of the vehicle of the employee, so that they can report it.
The Bradford County Prison Board oversees the operation of the county jail. Its members are the three Bradford County commissioners, Barrett, Evans and Bradford County Court Judge Maureen Beirne.