No Wild West in N.D.Some might argue that Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem was trying to sugarcoat a bad situation when he announced crime statistics for 2011. North Dakota’s crime rate increased 10.9 percent last year, 9 percent when adjusted to the population, but remains lower than a decade ago, when the state had some 50,000 fewer residents.
By: The Bismarck Tribune , The Jamestown Sun
Some might argue that Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem was trying to sugarcoat a bad situation when he announced crime statistics for 2011.
North Dakota’s crime rate increased 10.9 percent last year, 9 percent when adjusted to the population, but remains lower than a decade ago, when the state had some 50,000 fewer residents.
Stenehjem recently noted that the state’s population has been increasing. And more people have brought more crime — but not at an alarming rate.
“Crime index” offenses — those reported from states to the Federal Bureau of Investigation — were up statewide from 12,427 in 2010 to 13,778 in 2011. Nearly every crime category was up in 2011, with a 6.8 percent decrease in forcible rapes being a notable exception.
The attorney general went out of his way to show the crime rate was not disproportionate in the Oil Patch.
He worked with Rod Backman of Covenant Consulting Group to examine population changes. Among other things, looking at beds available in the man camps in the 11 oil field counties and the crime figures, it appears the crime rate changed little from 2010 to 2011.
Stenehjem praised the man camps for not tolerating bad behavior. He suggested the Oil Patch is getting a bad rap, that the amount of crime compared to the population in the oil patch isn’t higher than other parts of the state. In fact, many oil workers aren’t included in population counts because they aren’t full time residents.
The likelihood of being a victim of a crime in western North Dakota was about the same as any other place in the state, Stenehjem said.
The Oil Patch remains a hectic place. Traffic clogs the highways, waiting for service at businesses is common and the landscape is dotted with oil wells and oil-related businesses.
Too often, people equate this wild pace with crime, especially when a high profile case occurs. The Sherry Arnold murder in Montana created an image of an area out of control.
That doesn’t appear to be the case. The 2011 statistics tend to show that crime grows along with the rest of state. The state also is getting new businesses and opportunities. It’s beginning to keep its graduates and is luring home former residents.
This doesn’t make the crime rate acceptable. As Fargo, Bismarck and the other major cities grow they will face the challenges that come with being “big” cities.
In the Oil Patch, cities and counties are taking steps to adjust to the changing situation. The State Bar Association of North Dakota also has a task force collecting information on the impact of oil and energy development on the state’s justice system.
The bottom line: Stenehjem isn’t sugarcoating the situation. There doesn’t appear to be one area of the state “out of control.”
At the same time the entire state must remain diligent so the state’s growth doesn’t translate into an unacceptable growth in crime.