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Violent crime, DUI arrests decline in N.D.; drug offenses continue rise

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BISMARCK — The number of violent crimes in North Dakota, including murder and aggravated assault, declined in 2016, and there was a significant drop in DUI arrests. But drug-related offenses continued a five-year trend, rising 11 percent in 2016, according to state crime statistics released Friday, July 21.

"The good news is that the overall crime rate is down slightly from last year, aggravated assaults appear to have plateaued, and DUI arrests continue to decrease. The bad news is the significant increase in drug arrests," said Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

Stenehjem said aggravated assaults had tripled over the last decade, from about 300 in 2007 to more than 1,100 in 2016.

"It was just a steady, relentless increase," Stenehjem said.

North Dakota's overall crime rate of 6,348 crimes per 100,000 people in 2016 was down a half percent from the 6,379.5 crimes per 100,000 seen in 2015, according to a report compiled from information received from law enforcement agencies across the state.

The crime rate is calculated using what are called Group A offenses. These include crimes against people, such as rape, assault, murder and non-negligent manslaughter; property crimes, such as robbery, burglary and theft; and crimes against society, such as drug violations, prostitution and animal cruelty.

Group B offenses include DUI, bad checks, disorderly conduct, trespassing and other less serious offenses.

In 2016, 48,115 Group A offenses were reported, including 9,606 crimes against people, a 1.5 percent increase from the 9,469 reported in 2015.

The number of rapes fell by more than 9 percent, from 287 reported in 2015 to 260 in 2016.

There were 17 homicides in 2016, down from 21 in 2015. All the victims were adults. Four victims died from knife wounds. Two of the 17 murders involved domestic violence, the lowest in eight years.

In 2016, there were 1,132 reports of aggravated assault, down nearly 5 percent from the 1,185 reported in 2015. Aggravated assault involves serious injury to the victim or use of a weapon in a threatening manner.

Over the past several years, aggravated assaults had increased steadily year after year. However, that trend appears to have reached a plateau, Stenehjem said. In 2012, there were 1,083 aggravated assaults, a rate of 154.8 per 100,000, compared to 149.3 in 2016.

Alcohol or drug use was a factor in more than 42 percent of aggravated assaults last year.

More aggravated assaults are being reported in incidents of domestic violence: 45 percent of reported aggravated assaults in 2016 were tied to domestic violence, compared with nearly 35 percent in 2012.

There were 4,866 drug arrests reported in 2016, up 11 percent from 4,382 drug arrests in 2015. The report shows a five-year trend of steadily increasing drug arrests and offenses.

Stenehjem said rising drug abuse is a statewide problem. In particular, he said Fargo and the eastern part of the state has been battling the rise of heroin and opioids.

"The drug issue is the problem because it drives the other statistics," Stenehjem said. Violence and property crimes "are tied to people trying to feed their habit."

Arrests for alcohol-related offenses are continuing on a significant decline. There were 5,406 DUI arrests in 2016, down from 6,229 in 2015. That's the lowest number of DUIs since 2003, when there were 4,854 DUI arrests.

The total number of arrests reported increased from 31,648 in 2015 to 32,345 in 2016. DUI arrests accounted for almost 17 percent of total arrests in North Dakota last year. In 2012, there were 7,382 DUI arrests, which was nearly 23 percent of the 32,547 total arrests.

Stenehjem said enhanced DUI penalties and refusal laws, and a 24/7 drug-testing program have been the biggest factors in the decline of DUI offenses.

"That's one of the good things we can look at," he said.

Stenehjem said that DUI enforcement efforts have remained consistent in recent years.

Property crimes made up 54 percent of all Group A offenses reported in 2016. The number of property crimes decreased 3.5 percent from the 2015 total of 27,032 to 26,082 in 2016. More than $40.1 million worth of property was reported stolen in 2016, the report said.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including K-12 education, Fargo city government, criminal justice, and military affairs. He is currently one of The Forum's business reporters.

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