North Dakota is a wonderful place to live. I know this first hand. This is where I chose to build my life, my law practice, and my family. But crime is eating away at the quality of our lives. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is placing blame for this drastic increase on the rise in population. His explanation is both inaccurate and a disservice to North Dakotans.
To suggest that a 3 percent increase in population is responsible for a 20 percent increase in drug trafficking is political spin. Drug and violent crime has significantly outpaced population growth. The total number of reported violent crimes more than doubled population growth. More than $25 million worth of property was stolen and never recovered. Perhaps the most staggering fact is the last time crime went down in our state was 2010. This is not politics. These are the facts.
These facts say a lot, but behind each number is a life that has been impacted. There are North Dakotans whose property has been robbed, women who have been raped, families in the grip of drug addiction or, even worse, have lost someone to murder. It wasn't always this way. We should not settle for it staying this way.
Stenehjem's reasoning that the increase in crime is a natural result of our growth treats violent crime as if it were the weather, as if it were a force of nature that cannot be stopped. This simply isn't true.
As attorney general I will double the current budget. I will push to hire more local law enforcement and BCI agents. I will increase personnel and equipment at the State Crime Lab to combat the backlog of cases. I will push for community policing and actively seek federal grant money from the COPS, Community Oriented Policing Services, program. But relying solely on the federal government is a misstep. At last count Bismarck had a surplus of $1.4 billion and counting. Stenehjem is just now proposing an additional $3.4 million in extra funding. This is too little, too late. Bismarck must invest more to protect our families and communities.
The current Attorney General has failed to adequately respond. The last time crime went down was four years ago in 2010, when Stenehjem was last re-elected. Having already served as North Dakota's chief law enforcement officer for 14 years, Stenehjem is now asking us to re-hire him for another four years. It's not political to ask him why he didn't see this crime wave coming, or why he has been slow to respond to it during these last four years. It's about holding him accountable. After 40 years in politics, you would think Stenehjem would already know that.