MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. – The influx of temporary workers coming into Marshall County for the oil and gas industry has posed a peculiar problem for the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department when it comes to investigating crimes.
Although Sheriff Kevin Cecil said the county has not necessarily seen an increase of crime from the oil and gas industry, it has become difficult for his department to identify who is coming into the county and track traveling workers suspected of crimes.
There are multiple issues in dealing with transient workers, according to Cecil.
Since many gas workers live in the area for only a few months, live in temporary residences such as motor homes, motels and rented housing, and often drive cars not in their name, it can sometimes be a time-consuming task for law enforcement to keep track of who is in the county and if they have a criminal background.
“For us, it makes it extremely difficult to find out who is here and not here,” Cecil said.
In response, the sheriff’s department is exploring how to monitor and identify workers who temporarily set up shop in the area. Cecil said deputies are traveling through the county with license plate readers, which will alert them of people with criminal backgrounds by reading a license plate number.
This way, the department can be aware of potential problems.
If the plate numbers are not in the system, the department will still try to do research on someone, but it’s a time-consuming process, Cecil said.
Instead of relying on the reader’s system, the department is developing a new database of people in the county based on their own research.
“It’s a lot of boots on the ground stuff,” Cecil said. “It’s hard to track them from month-to-month and week-to-week. It’s not that anybody’s necessarily bad or good, we just want to know who’s here. We want to know who we’re dealing with. It’s not that we’re labeling these people, we’re preparing ourselves and making it easier on us in the long run in case something does happen.”
Once someone is identified, however, it can still be difficult to locate a pipeliner connected to a crime. Sometimes, a worker will commit a crime locally and will leave the area shortly after to go to a job site that could be anywhere in the country.
“There have been some incidents that have occurred in Marshall County – some serious things – that involved transient workers who picked up and left within a couple of hours,” Cecil said. “We have to track them down. You’re not always able to find them in a quick way, because they move throughout the country.”
In those cases, law enforcement must rely on other jurisdictions in the country to find a suspect who has fled. Cecil said several times other jurisdictions have depended on his office as well to look for someone who committed a crime in their area.
Cecil added oil and gas workers are only part of the picture for the county’s crime. Pipeliners do not get into trouble any more than permanent residents, but their mobile lifestyle and the lack of familiarity makes it more difficult to find them when they do.
“It’s a very, very time-consuming process,” Cecil said. “It’s very tedious.”