North Dakota crime rate drops; illegal drug use spikes

Staff Writer
Devils Lake Journal

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's crime rate dropped slightly last year despite a "very worrisome" rise in illegal drug activity in the state, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Friday.

The annual Bureau of Criminal Investigation report shows North Dakota's crime rate per capita last year dropped 0.5 percent from 2015, despite the spike in the number of drug arrests, which increased 11 percent.

Methamphetamine-related crimes topped the number of arrests, Stenehjem said, followed by marijuana, illicit opiates, heroin and fentanyl, a relatively new drug in North Dakota that is many more times more powerful than morphine.

Stenehjem and others are hopeful legislation passed this year aimed at slowing prison growth by helping nonviolent offenders through treatment and sentencing alternatives will help curb illegal drug activity in time.

The legislation represents a major shift in North Dakota incarceration policies. It comes at a time when the state's correctional system is over capacity and inmate populations are increasing at some of the fastest rates in the nation.

"We have a long way to go," Stenehjem said.

The annual report released Friday provides statistics for crimes ranging from murder to car thefts and other property crimes.

There were 17 murders in North Dakota last year, down from 21 in 2015, data show. The state averages about a dozen murders annually.

Despite the increased drug arrests, which have nearly doubled the in the past decade, data this year showed some positive trends, Stenehjem said.

Data show aggravated assaults were down 4.5 percent last year. The felony crimes involving fights in which the victims are seriously injured have been decreasing in North Dakota the past couple of years, after increasing for a decade and a half.

The report said there were 5,406 drunken driving arrests last year, down from 6,229 in 2015. Stenehjem called the decrease "remarkable" and the lowest number of drunken driving arrests since 2003.

Stenehjem said tougher drunken-driving laws passed by the Legislature four years ago may be behind the decrease.