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Dennis: ND’s violent-crime rates need attention

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opinion Dickinson, 58602
The Dickinson Press
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Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Crime in North Dakota is up, news media in the state have reported for years, and The New York Times confirmed in a Page 1 story Sunday.

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But the state’s population also is up. So, does the increase in population account for the increase in crime?

In part.

But only in part. The population growth is in line with the higher numbers of property crimes. But when it comes to violent crimes, both the numbers and the rates-per-100,000 people in North Dakota are up, and by quite a bit more than population increases alone can account for.

Meanwhile, America’s national rate of violent crimes generally has declined over the past 20 years.

So, while North Dakota’s violent-crime rate remains below the national average, the difference isn’t as much as it used to be.

This seems to be the trend that the Times story and many residents have responded to. It’s not necessarily a catastrophe: Remember, America as a whole is much safer than before, and violent crimes in North Dakota and elsewhere remain much less common than property crimes.

But it’s still a change for North Dakota, perhaps one that could be expressed as an evolution from a state with an extremely low rate of violent crime to one where the rate is just low.

That change and what to do about it should be a topic of discussion among residents and policymakers for months to come.

“Crime has soared as thousands of workers and rivers of cash have flowed into (Oil Patch) towns, straining police departments and shattering residents’ sense of safety,” The Times’ front-page story reported.

“... Officials say that most of the new arrivals are hard workers who are simply looking for better lives, and that much of the increase in crime has resulted from population growth: Waves of new residents inevitably mean more traffic crashes and calls to 911.”

Which begs this question: Do the statistics confirm or deny what the “officials” say?

Every year, the North Dakota attorney general’s office analyzes crime numbers and trends. And the most recent report, which was issued in July, shows a stark difference in the trends of violent- and property-crime rates over the past 10 years.

As mentioned, the property-crime rate — the incidence per 100,000 people — has stayed roughly the same. So, the overall increases in the raw numbers of property crimes (and there have been increases) likely can be attributed to population growth.

But the violent-crime rates are something else.

In 2003, North Dakota’s rate of violent crimes per 100,000 people was 78.7. By 2012, that number had risen to 207.4, an increase of more than 260 percent.

The “violent crimes” category includes murder and non-negligent manslaughter — the rate-per-100,000 of which has gone up about 150 percent since 2003 — as well as forcible rape (also up about 150 percent), robbery (up 167 percent) and aggravated assault (up more than 330 percent).

Again, these rates generally remain lower than the national averages. But they’re still a lot higher than they used to be.

So, when North Dakotans say they feel like something about their state has changed, they’re sensing a real phenomenon. And policymakers should take note.

Dennis is the opinion editor of the Grand Forks Herald. Email him at tdennis@gfherald.com.

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Tom Dennis
(701) 780-1276
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