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Stenehjem: ‘Worrisome’ increase in drug arrests contributes to 4.4 percent jump in N.D. crime rate

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem points to a graphic showing the state-wide drug arrests from 2003 to 2014 as he explains the crime statistics for the state during a press confernce held in his office on 7-29-2015 at the state Capitol in Bismarck, N.D. (MIKE MCCLEARY/BISMARCK TRIBUNE)

BISMARCK – North Dakota law enforcement agencies reported a record 4,000 drug arrests last year, a “worrisome” increase that contributed to a 4.4 percent jump in the state’s per-capita crime rate, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Wednesday in releasing the state’s annual crime report.

“We do have some good news, and we have some very, very alarming bad news,” he said.

Agencies reported exactly 4,000 arrests for drug and narcotics violations, a 17.7 percent increase that followed a 17 percent jump in drug arrests in 2013. Drug arrests are up nearly 69 percent since 2010.

Stenehjem said the seriousness and complexity of drug activity also is “much worse than it was before,” with drugs being imported directly from cartels in Mexico and elsewhere rather than through middlemen along the way.

“And very often we’re seeing that these folks are outlaw motorcycle gangs, they’re drug cartels, and when they come up here they have much larger amounts of the drugs and they’re very often heavily armed,” he said. “This is a real concern for law enforcement.”

On a positive note, aggravated assaults were down statewide for the first time in at least 15 years, dropping 1 percent – though Stenehjem noted they were up 8 percent in the state’s 12 top oil-producing counties.

Stenehjem also highlighted a “considerable” reduction in arrests for driving under the influence, which dropped 5.8 percent to 6,705 last year. He said it suggests that stricter DUI laws imposed by the Legislature in 2013 and the state’s 24/7 sobriety program are being successful.

The state had 19 homicides last year, up from 14 the previous year but below the 20 in 2012.

The crime rate per 100,000 people increased 4.4 percent over 2013’s rate, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimated population for North Dakota of 739,482 last year. That compares to a 0.3 percent reduction in the crime rate in 2013 and increases of 8.4 percent in 2012 and 7.8 percent in 2011.

Wednesday’s report was North Dakota’s first crime stats report using the National Incident-Based Reporting System, which divides offenses into two groups: Group A, which includes serious offenses such as homicide, kidnapping, robbery, arson and sex offenses, and Group B, which includes lesser offenses such as disorderly conduct, driving under the influence and trespassing.

Group A offenses increased 6.8 percent in North Dakota in 2014. About 20 percent of those were considered “crimes against persons,” such as murder, rape and assaults. Crimes against persons totaled 8,645 last year, a 1.6 decrease from 2013’s total of 8,788 but higher than 2012’s total of 8,602.

Arrests for Group A offenses have increased 36.6 percent since 2010.

Crimes against property, including robbery, burglary, vehicle theft, arson and fraud, accounted for more than 55 percent of the Group A offenses and increased by 3.8 percent, from 22,835 to 23,712.

Group B arrests totaled 16,806, down 9.3 percent from 2013. More than $38.6 million worth of property was reported stolen in 2014, with 24.3 percent of that recovered by authorities.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.