Violent crime trends refuel North Dakota attorney general's legislative push

While reported crimes against persons are holding steady year to year, they are up 37% since 2013, Attorney General Drew Wrigley said.

Drew Wrigley stands at a podium and gestures at a bar graph.
North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley on Tuesday, May 23, 2023, presented 2022 crime statistics at the state Capitol in Bismarck. Wrigley said the statistics show a persistent trend of rising violent crime in North Dakota.
Jack Dura / The Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley will renew his push for mandatory minimum sentences for certain violent crimes, calling the state's trends troubling.

Wrigley on Tuesday, May 23, released 2022 crime statistics , including reported homicides , drug offenses and crimes against people. Not all instances resulted in arrests or prosecution.

Homicides increased from 17 in 2021 to 30 in 2022; 2020 is the 20-year record, at 32 homicides. Reported crimes against persons, including robbery, held flat last year but are up 37% from 2013.

"The yearslong trend of increasing violent crime in North Dakota persists," the attorney general told reporters.

Wrigley also blasted House lawmakers for having "derailed" his bill last month to impose tougher penalties for violent gun crimes and offenses against police — legislation he said "we're going to be back with" in 2025, citing the 2022 statistics.


The bill hit rocks in the House over several issues, including amendments rewriting the bill, Wrigley's involvement in the legislation, and which lawmakers got to negotiate the bill's final language with the Senate.

Wrigley said Tuesday, "There's no policymaker in our state that can stand up and look their constituents in the eye and not acknowledge we've got a violent crime problem, and it's getting worse."

He plans to add a new statistic to future reports: crimes committed by people who are on early parole.

"It'll be decisional information for our Legislature, for our judges, for our state's attorneys and for our Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation," the attorney general said.


Wrigley highlighted such statistics as reported rapes increasing nearly 12% last year, and robberies increasing 16%.

Child pornography offenses increased 21%, "staggering" numbers and likely underreported, given how many cases are prosecuted federally, "but you can know they're being addressed," Wrigley said.

Aggravated assaults increased nearly 10%. Kidnapping/abduction rose nearly 31%.


Several crime statistics decreased last year, including drug/narcotic violations down 9.4%, but drug seizures, trafficking, addiction rates and overdose deaths remain prevalent issues, according to Wrigley.

North Dakota logged 129 drug overdose deaths in 2022, according to preliminary data on the North Dakota Violent Death Reporting System online.

State and federal investigators have improved at "moving up the chain" and targeting "the worst (drug) traffickers you can possibly get," Wrigley said.

DUI arrests continued a general decadelong decline, what Wrigley called "a really positive trend," though they were up 4.3% last year.

Court filings

Statewide district court filings fell 11% last year, down to 141,514 total criminal, civil, traffic and other filings, according to the 2022 North Dakota court system annual report released in March.

Filings in the nine-county South Central Judicial District, encompassing Burleigh and Morton counties, fell nearly 12%, to 26,280 filings in 2022, including a 17% drop in criminal filings. The district still had the most total filings of any in North Dakota last year.

Filings in the three-county East Central Judicial District, which includes Cass County, fell by 3.2% to 25,306 filings in 2022, including a 4% drop in criminal filings.

State Court Administrator Sally Holewa call the statewide drop in filing significant but not unusual.


"It's not so much of a dramatic drop. I think it's more cyclical," she said.

The decrease is mostly due to fewer administrative traffic filings, probably due to turnover and vacancies among law enforcement officers, she said.

Courts also saw a major decrease in contract collections, an indicator of "the tail end" of effects from the 2016-17 oil bust, according to Holewa.

Morton County State's Attorney Al Koppy said various reasons account for differences from year to year, including 2022's decreases. He cited the killings of four people in 2019 at RJR Maintenance & Management in Mandan.

"That totally skews the statistics for that year. You just don't know what's going to come down the pike," Koppy said. "It's whatever happens."

District courts had 244 jury trials last year, down from 285 in 2021. The South Central District had the most jury trials in the state in both years: 100 in 2021 and 78 in 2022.

Holewa attributed the decrease in trials to attorney practices and also to what deals are offered in cases.

Since 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, remote proceedings became part of district courts' protocols, but they are now largely "district-driven," according to Holewa.

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