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Drug arrests rising, but overall crime rate steady in ND, Stenehjem says

Wayne Stenehjem, during a stop in Fargo May 19, 2016. Forum News Service file

BISMARCK -- Crime in North Dakota’s Oil Patch isn’t worse than elsewhere in the state, according to figures released Monday by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

Stenehjem pointed to 19 oil-producing counties where about 28 percent of North Dakota’s population lives, and where he said about 25 percent of the state’s aggravated assaults, drug arrests and homicides took place last year.

“The crime, of course, is something we’re concerned about statewide, but it is not a fair assessment to say that the crime in the Oil Patch in North Dakota is worse than it is anywhere else,” Stenehjem said June 25, noting his office tracked and compared about the last eight years of crime rates for oil country and statewide.

North Dakota’s overall crime rate of 6,373.9 per 100,000 people remained relatively unchanged from 2016 to 2017 — a 0.4 percent increase, Stenehjem said.

He emphasized drug arrests continue to increase, despite the fairly level crime rate and population. Drug arrests increased 4.4 percent last year, while quantities and potency of drugs further concern law enforcement, particularly in cases of drug trafficking, which can involve firearms.

Drug arrests have about doubled in North Dakota since 2010, the AG noted.

“A part of that is that we’re ever diligent in working to make these kinds of arrests but part of it I think, too, is that the number of and the amount that we’re seeing coming into North Dakota, as elsewhere, is simply increasing,” he said.

Marijuana accounts for about half of drug arrests, Stenehjem added. Meth, almost entirely from out of state, follows as second: “We’re seeing that in greater quantities and stronger potency.”

Heroin is not as common as marijuana and meth, but “now we’re seeing it come in in greater amounts, and come in just about every day,” Stenehjem said, noting there was one sample of heroin at the state’s crime lab 10 years ago.

January and February of 2017 were the last months of protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in southern Morton County, which included hundreds of arrests and criminal charges. Stenehjem said it’s hard to say where the protests are reflected in 2017’s crime statistics, but likely affected figures for DUI arrests due to patrol officers re-assigned to respond to the monthslong protests.

“It won’t affect the drug cases because it was mostly the narcotics task forces that were working on those,” he said. “They continued their operations as the protest was going on, but the regular street patrols and the highway patrol … would most readily be seen in the DUIs, so we’re watching that, and we’re trying to see what ... might have happened with those.”

North Dakota’s crime rate is calculated using three categories, including crimes against persons, property and society.

Stenehjem’s office also rolled out an online data portal for state crime statistics at


North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem highlighted several statistics for various areas of crime in 2017 in the state, including:

  • There were 12 homicides last year, down from 17 in 2016. This year has had three so far.
  • DUIs accounted for 16 percent of all arrests in North Dakota in 2017, compared to 27 percent in 2012-13, before the state passed DUI reform.
  • Aggravated assaults increased 7.4 percent from 2016 to 2017.
  • Reports of rape increased 19 percent from 2016 to 2017, possibly from more overall offenses, or people more comfortable with reporting to law enforcement.
  • Property offenses account for slightly over half of all offenses, with $37.2 million in property reported stolen last year. Shoplifting increased 3 percent in 2017 from 2016, as the biggest category of theft.
  • Pornography and obscene material increased about 60 percent, while the state and local law enforcement concentrates on child porn with the Internet Crimes Against Children task force.
  • Hacking and computer invasion increased from one reported in 2016 to 22 in 2017, but there are likely more victims who are not reporting.