ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Attorney General Drew Wrigley says that as police chases increase, changes needed in North Dakota sentencing

“It is a very, very significant law enforcement problem, and one we intend to address,” Wrigley said.

110922.N.FF.NDAG
Drew Wrigley chats with well-wishers while waiting for the results in the North Dakota Attorney General's race during a gathering at Suite Shots in south Fargo on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.
David Samson / The Forum
We are part of The Trust Project.

GRAND FORKS — North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley believes weak sentences are contributing to a rise in police chases, and he says changes are needed to fix it.

Drew Wrigley AG Office photo.jpg
Drew Wrigley, attorney general of North Dakota.
Attorney General's Office website

As a former U.S. attorney and the state’s current attorney general, Wrigley has spoken with members of law enforcement across the state who told him police pursuits are “at levels they’ve never seen before.”

“It is a very, very significant law enforcement problem, and one we intend to address,” Wrigley said.

Wrigley largely attributes the increase in fleeing vehicles to the likelihood that those convicted will not receive additional jail time.

“It’s an enormous life-and-death situation (that law-enforcement officers) are being placed in all the time because a number of people fleeing are not getting additional sentences,” Wrigley told the Grand Forks Herald in August. “They’re not getting additional sentences, so why wouldn’t they try to flee?”

ADVERTISEMENT

“There needs to be an additional sentence,” Wrigley said.

As Wrigley advocates for mandatory jail time, the issue of police pursuits gains attention across the state. Some agencies have seen an increase in pursuits recently, but a few anticipate a decline in 2022.

According to the Grand Forks Police Department, police pursuits were on a slow but steady incline from 2019 to 2021. Last year, there were 34 police pursuits, but there were only 20 as of Nov. 22 of this year. Overall, though, Lt. Andrew Stein of the GFPD said pursuit numbers have "trended up" in the last eight to 10 years.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol, the Bismarck Police Department and the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Office also anticipate a decline in pursuits this year. The Minot Police Department, however, expects an incline.

Wrigley is focusing on the issue of police pursuits because of the danger they present for community members and law enforcement.

“It doesn’t take much imagination to recognize how dangerous this is, when someone flees,” Wrigley said.

Generally, offenders charged with fleeing law enforcement are sentenced for their underlying offense (such as illegal drug possession) and do not receive additional jail time for fleeing.

“It’s not too much to ask that the person doing those outrageous things would get an additional sentence, on top of what they’re being sentenced for to begin with,” Wrigley said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Wrigley intends to propose legislation that would require offenders convicted of fleeing law enforcement to serve their sentences consecutively. Ideally, judges who choose not to give additional jail time for fleeing law enforcement would be required to provide a written explanation. The length of sentences would remain under the court’s discretion.

“That’s a transparency measure. That’s an integrity-in-government measure,” Wrigley said. “We need to have even more transparency in our court system.”

Department protocols generally determine whether to pursue a fleeing vehicle. Examples of this, according to Lt. Jeff Solemsaas of the Bismarck Police Department, include drive-by shootings and “rolling domestics” – an assault that occurs within a moving vehicle. According to Chief David Zibolski of the Fargo Police Department, one reason offenders flee is because they know the FPD does not initiate police pursuits over minor violations, per policy.

In Grand Forks, police officers considers multiple factors when determining whether to pursue a vehicle, including nature of the offense; time of day; lighting; geographic location; density of traffic; presence of pedestrians; weather conditions; potential risks to citizens, law enforcement, and the offender; and the availability of alternative enforcement action.

Officers consider alternative enforcement action when faced with a potential pursuit, such as locating the offender by other means.

“If we know who this person is, can we just send over an affidavit of probable cause?” Stein said.

Officers then may go to the offender’s residence to interview them after the incident.

An additional alternative is collaboration with the North Dakota Highway Patrol to locate offenders using an airplane, a method Solemsaas said has been “pretty effective” for the Bismarck Police Department. Officers also may be able to locate offenders by tracking their license plates.

Related Topics: DREW WRIGLEYPUBLIC SAFETY
Sav Kelly joined the Grand Forks Herald in August 2022.

Kelly covers public safety, including local crime and the courts system.

Readers can reach Kelly at (701) 780-1102 or skelly@gfherald.com.
What To Read Next
A handful of proposals under consideration by North Dakota lawmakers would expand public reporting requirements for campaign finance groups.
The job fair is for high-demand, high-wage jobs all throughout the state.
After 14 months of discussion, planning and controversy, the proposed corn mill to be owned by China-based Fufeng Group on Tuesday hit what appears to be an insurmountable hurdle
It’s not the first time the Drayton Economic Development Corp. has stepped in to try to save a local necessity in Drayton, North Dakota.