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OUR OPINION: N.D.’s violent-crime rate needs attention

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opinion Grand Forks,North Dakota 58203
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OUR OPINION: N.D.’s violent-crime rate needs attention
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

North Dakota, 1990: Eight murders, 98 forcible rapes, 36 robberies and 223 aggravated assaults.

North Dakota, 2013: 14 murders, 237 forcible rapes, 151 robberies and 1,156 aggravated assaults.


And there you have it.

The oil boom, on balance, has been a terrifically good thing in North Dakota. The state’s newfound wealth has brought about tremendous changes, almost all of them for the better.

Almost all. But not all. And one of the key tradeoffs that makes residents have at least occasional second thoughts has been the dramatic increase in the rate of violent crimes.

Elected officials should take note, just as they should pay attention to other newly important issues such as conservation and public-school quality.

Once upon a time, the only topic that mattered in North Dakota was growth, and election after election turned on that issue.

Now, growth and prosperity are seemingly assured, at least for the moment. But that has simply changed — not decreased — lawmakers’ workloads, because the influx of people, derricks, trains, trucks and other activity has brought other, long-dormant issues to the fore.

The violent-crime rate is one. Since 1990, that rate has nearly quadrupled, rising from 57 per 100,000 people in 1990 to 215 per 100,000 people in 2013, according to the state attorney general’s “Crime in North Dakota” reports. (The latest report was released Tuesday.)

Understand, even that increase should be qualified and kept in perspective.

For example, the state’s current violent-crime rate still leaves North Dakota well below the national average, which the FBI put at 386 per 100,000 people in 2012.

Thanks to a significant drop in the rate of property crimes, the state’s overall crime rate — which includes crimes against both people and property — actually fell by about 18 percent between 1990 and 2013. That’s exceptionally good news.

There also are states with far higher violent-crime rates, including several in which the rates per 100,000 reach into the 500s, 600s or even more.

But these days, there also are states such as Maine and Vermont where the rates are much lower. North Dakota used to have that “lowest violent crime rate in America” category almost all to itself; and so, it’s with at least a little sadness that the state eases out of the ranks of states with “the lowest” rates and joins those where the rates are simply “low.”

Remember, too, that even as key categories of violent crime in North Dakota have surged, the national violent-crime rate has plummeted. In 1990, when the national rate stood at 609 per 100,000 people, North Dakota’s 57-per-100,000 statistic — less than one-tenth of the national rate — was a point of intense state pride.

Clearly, while North Dakota still stands out as a “safe” state, the difference between it and the national norm is not as stark as it used to be. The median income in North Dakota now has surpassed the national figure, and that’s a change residents are happy to accept. But it’s disturbing to watch the violent-crime rate increase, too.

North Dakota leaders should work hard to reverse that latter trend, confident that the public will support them in those efforts.

Tom Dennis
(701) 780-1276