Crime up 7.9 percent last year in North Dakota

2013-07-30T12:53:00Z 2013-07-30T15:22:06Z Crime up 7.9 percent last year in North DakotaBy JENNY MICHAEL | Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says North Dakota remains one of the safest states in the country, with theft offenses making up the majority of the crime reported here.

But, the state's Uniform Crime Report from 2012, which was released on Tuesday, "was not a rosy one," Stenehjem said. Crime increased 7.9 percent in North Dakota in 2012 compared to 2011, and violent crime increased 7.2 percent. A record 243 rapes were reported in the state last year, up from 207 in 2011. The state's 20 murders in 2013 was the highest number for a single year since 22 were reported in 1993.

The Uniform Crime Report is a federally mandated report completed by every state from information reported by local law enforcement agencies. Seven North Dakota law enforcement agencies did not report their numbers to the state for 2012.

North Dakota typically has ranked as one of the safest states in the nation based on the statistics compiled in the report, and Stenehjem said that remains true. However, an increase in population in recent years has correlated with an increase in crime reports.

Western North Dakota, where the oil play is pulling thousands of people into the state, has received much of the blame for the increase. Stenehjem said an analysis of crime in 12 of the top oil-producing counties shows that those counties make up approximately 25 percent of the state's population and are accounting for a proportional number of crime reports.

The counties considered as "oil counties" by the attorney general's office were all those north of Interstate 94 and west of U.S. Highway 83, excluding McLean, Oliver and Renville counties.

Stenehjem said that while the oil patch is not the "wild, wild West" it has been portrayed as, three of the busiest oil-producing counties — Williams, McKenzie and Mountrail — had disturbing increases in violent crime in 2012.

Chief among Stenehjem's concerns for crime in the state are aggravated assaults, rapes, human trafficking and organized criminal enterprises. Rapes increased 17 percent statewide from 2011 to 2012, while aggravated assaults increased 3 percent. Statistics aren't kept on human trafficking; however, Stenehjem said law enforcement officers have said the practice of people forcing others into prostitution is a growing issue in the state. Officers also have seen increasing evidence of organized criminal enterprises in drug cases, he said.

The state's per capita crime rate increased 5.5 percent since 2011, the report says. Arrests also increased, from 29,260 in 2011 to 32,380 in 2012. Of seven crime categories compiled in the crime report, burglary — with a decrease of 1.2 percent — was the only one to decline from 2011 to 2012. Crime reports increased less in 2012 than in 2011, when overall crime increased by 10.9 percent compared to 2010.

The 2012 report shows how crime has changed in North Dakota in the past decade. The amount of property loss due to crimes included in the report has nearly doubled in that time, from $11,457,228 in 2003 to $22,227,490 in 2012. The number of violent offenses has nearly tripled, from 499 in 2003 to 1,451 in 2012. Arrests for violent crimes also has increased, from 203 in 2003 to 544 in 2012. Aggravated assaults have shown the most dramatic climb, from 289 in 2003 to 1,071 in 2012. Property crimes have been far more steady since 2003, which little change in those categories.

Stenehjem said the North Dakota Legislature increased funding for state law enforcement agencies, enabling them to put more officers in the field to combat growing problems. The state also is in the process of awarding oil impact grants to agencies in western North Dakota. Counties and cities also have put more resources into their law enforcement agencies, and the FBI has signaled a willingness to put more agents in the state, he said.

"The best thing we can do is get law enforcement officers, properly trained and properly equipped, on the streets," he said.

Drug and drunken driving arrests, not required for the federal Uniform Crime Report but kept by the state of North Dakota, also increased in 2012. Drug arrests increased from 2,667 to 2,872, and DUI arrests increased from 6,600 to 7,322. Stenehjem believes the state's revised DUI laws, which went into effect July 1, will help bring down DUI numbers in the future.

Stenehjem said drugs are of particular concern in the state, because investigators are noting more organized criminal enterprises trafficking dangerous drugs across North Dakota, rather than the small, local drug trade operations that they saw in the past.

Bureau of Criminal Investigation Director Dallas Carlson said drug investigations are taking detectives directly to Mexico, California and Texas rather than to other metropolitan areas as they used to.

"It's a direct route right to our state now," he said.

Reach Jenny Michael at 701-250-8225 or jenny.michael@bismarcktribune.com.

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