N.D. violent crime up: Attorney general to request more resources for western North Dakota
BISMARCK — Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said he plans to request more funding and personnel to help tackle the ongoing rise of drug trafficking, prostitution and violent crimes in North Dakota, especially in western oil-producing counties that saw a 23 percent spike in aggravated assault reports last year.
In releasing the state’s 2013 crime report Tuesday, Stenehjem said the 7.9 percent increase in aggravated assault reports statewide is tempered by population growth but still “something that we’re watching very carefully.”
Overall, the number of reported violent crimes — murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — increased by 7.4 percent statewide last year, from 1,451 to 1,558. Robbery saw the biggest jump at 29 percent.
But unlike the 2012 report, the 2013 figures include some positives, Stenehjem said, noting rape cases fell by 2.5 percent, the number of homicides dropped from 20 to 14 and drunken driving offenses decreased by 3.2 percent.
As he first reported last month, Stenehjem again stressed that drug offenses increased by 19.5 percent last year and continue to be the biggest area of concern. Methamphetamine is now being transported into the state not by the ounce or gram but by the pound, and almost always by heavily armed individuals with direct ties to drug manufacturers, he said.
“I’m glad to report some good news, but we certainly have additional work to do,” he said.
His Democratic challenger in the November election, Grand Forks attorney Kiara Kraus-Parr, released a statement Tuesday saying “out-of-control” violent crime and drug trafficking “are eroding the foundations of our communities” and that Stenehjem “has been either unable or unwilling to stop this crime spree.”
“The numbers demonstrate that, after 14 years in office, he has been ineffective in safeguarding our way of life,” she said.
The state’s violent crime rate has more than doubled since 2004, from 91.9 offenses per 100,000 people in 2004 to 215.4 offenses per 100,000 people last year, the report states. But Stenehjem said the fact that violent offenses accounted for less than 10 percent of the overall index offenses — property crimes accounted for 90.1 percent — shows the state is still one of the safest in the nation.
Stenehjem said his preliminary budget request for 2015-17 includes about $20 million for oil impact grants to help local law enforcement agencies with the workload. State lawmakers approved $16.6 million in grants for 2013-15.
He also plans to ask for two additional Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents to be stationed in Williston to deal with the growing problem of human trafficking and prostitution, and for additional BCI agents for Williston, Watford City and Dickinson.
Stenehjem said he continues to be concerned about the state’s long-term, “inexorable” rise in aggravated assault reports, which increased by 85 last year to a total of 1,156. Sixty-four of those 85 reports came from the dozen oil-producing counties that make up about 25 percent of the state’s population, he said.
But the numbers don’t tell the whole story and must be viewed against the state’s population growth, Stenehjem said. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that North Dakota added more than 22,000 people in 2013, and state officials estimate that roughly 45,000 nonpermanent residents — up from about 31,000 in 2012 — were living in crew camps, RVs, motels or other temporary housing last year, mostly in oil country, he said, citing information from the state departments of Health and Commerce.
In Williams County, which is ground zero for the Bakken oil shale boom, the violent crime rate actually went down in 2013 when nonpermanent residents are included in the population, Stenehjem said. And rape offenses decreased by more — 17 percent — in the 12 oil counties than in the state overall, which saw a 2.5 percent drop.
The 12 counties counted as oil-producing counties in the report were Billings, Burke, Divide, Dunn, Golden Valley, McKenzie, McLean, Mercer, Mountrail, Stark, Ward and Williams.
Statewide, the total number of reported crime index offenses — violent crimes and the property crimes of burglary, larceny/theft and motor vehicle theft — climbed 5.5 percent last year, from 14,866 to 15,685.
Motor vehicle thefts increased by 19.1 percent, while burglaries jumped by 20.7 percent last year, which Stenehjem attributed in part to increased drug traffic.
“It ripples throughout all of criminal activity,” he said.