So, what was it like being Dunn County States Attorney this first year?
By Pat Merriman
Dunn Co. State’s Attorney
Busy! Remember, we started with the animal rights folks from down in Dickinson and we ended with the news that, just like the rest of America, drugs had become a serious problem here in our corner of the world too. There was good news and bad news. First, the good news. DUI’s and related fatalities dropped dramatically. Recall that Dunn County had experienced an 18% population increase from 2010- 14 (from 3,536 to 4,162) while the rest of North Dakota only went up 7.5%. At the same time, from 2011-2015, total criminal cases filed (actual defendants with multiple counts not inflated statistics) increased from 345 cases in 2011, to 449 in 2012, to 476 in 2013, to 533 in 2014, to 568 in 2015—this last calendar year. A whopping 66% increase during that 3 year period and, still up 20% during the past 24 months. In short, we never got the “slow down” memo here like the rest of the oil patch.
So, how is that increase of even, another 6.5% this year good news? Well, guess what? Our Zero Tolerance DUI enforcement effort, started in the Fall of 2014, and the hard work of our Dunn County juries in our first 4 DUI trials in recent history, and our law enforcement officers, caused that number to drop SIGNIFICANTLY! Are you ready, and, I triple-checked this? From a mind blowing, all time high, of 138 DUI’s charged in 2014 to just 98 in 2015. That’s a DECREASE of 29% in DUI’s in just this past year and, only 8 more DUI’s total than we experienced in 2012 BEFORE the big explosion! But, it gets better—in 2012, the percentage of DUI drivers who blew .16 or higher (twice the legal limit) was 12%, that rose to 16% in 2013, 31% in 2014 but, ONLY 22% in 2015. So, not only did the total number of drunk drivers drop but, so did the average blood alcohol content of the offenders. That was another 29% drop in just one year from the all time high in 2014. And, the percentage of North Dakota vs out-of-state offenders? In 2012, 60% of DUI’s were committed by out-of-staters, 65% in 2013, 67% in 2014 and…ready for this…only 53% for 2015. There was also only 1 DUI over our recent New Year’s holiday this past weekend.
Finally, repeat DUI offenders in Dunn County (2 or more DUI’s within the preceding 7 years) also dropped dramatically. The biggest thorn in our local driver safety—those who just won’t get it even after several prior convictions. Not last year! From 8% of DUI offenders in 2012, and an increase to 15% in 2013, 16% in 2014 and…again… are you ready? ONLY 8% in 2015. Folks…we sent the message and, drunk drivers got that it and, stayed off Dunn County roads. Zero Tolerance worked. That’s the only logical explanation because, remember, annual case filings and population has INCREASED during this 4-year cycle, but, the DUI numbers have DECREASED! And, that’s what officers were reporting from the field. When DUI drivers found out they were in Dunn County, they weren’t happy campers. That was even reported to me anecdotally from officers in the field. Drunk drivers don’t want to get caught in Dunn County. Thank you and, enough said.
Minors possessing/consuming alcohol—totaled 13 in 2012, 8 in 2013, 23 in 2014 and 15 in 2015 reflecting the communities tightening of alcohol restrictions on those who illegally consume it in 2014. The good news is that the numbers are starting to drop and, remember, that our local bars pioneered their All for One Program to help stop illegal drinking too. Theft offenses remain relatively low from 12 in 2012 to only 11 in 2015. These numbers, in my mind, reflect that when people can still find a good job, they just don’t steal other people’s property. Resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and other public offenses have increased from 19 in 2012, to 21 in 2013, to 41 in 2014, but, also dropped to 32 in 2015. So, scofflaws remain a problem but, at least, we are not Ferguson, Baltimore or, other areas where this is exploding now and getting violent. Assaults, particularly domestic violence incidents, have remained relatively static from a high of 29 in 2012, to 21 in 2013, to 28 in 2014, to 28 in 2015. With all of the media attention on this problem, it’s good to know that our residents are a cut above the rest. Weapons offenses started at 11 in 2012, to 10 in 2013, to 8 in 2014 to 18 in 2015. Again, more traffic stops have led to the discovery of more weapons and, my office adopted a policy in 2014 that if you got caught with a concealed weapon, we worked with you to get a concealed carry permit and “get legal”. There have not been any problems of which I’m aware.
Now, for the bad news— illegal drugs. Since the last 3 weeks of December, the uninformed few have cried “Scare Tactics” into the Ethernet. Those who either simply want to legalize recreational drug use or, don’t want to face the reality about drug offenses in Dunn County. And, the Herald has kept you up to date (to the moment) on what is going on with this morass which has been foisted onto us by both the federal and state legislatures. So…please don’t kill the messenger with the message. Here are the hard, cold facts. In 2012, there were only 29 TOTAL drug cases filed in Dunn County. That increased to 60 in 2013 (a 107% increase), 96 in 2014 (231% increase from 2012), and, finally, to 90 in 2015 (a slight decrease) but, unfortunately, several undercover buys and search warrant cases remain to be filed from this past year. Not scare tactics, folks, just the facts. Search warrants have DRAMATICALLY increased because of the flagrant openness of what used to be just whispered about in dark corners out here.
One hundred drug cases in a small community speaks to a problem which exploded with the affluence of the oil boom and, just became more flagrant from 2014-15. As we continue to hover around that number, this nonsense comprises the LARGEST increase in criminal activity since I’ve been here. I mean, even adding other crime’s increases together does not even begin to approach the drug problem being foisted on us from back East. A further breakdown of these hard, cold numbers reveals that in 2012, 21% of drug cases were felonies, 67% of those felonies involving something other than methamphetamine, 7% were felony paraphernalia charges, 24% were misdemeanor marijuana, and 48% involved misdemeanor paraphernalia. Only 24% of these drug offenders, in 2012, hailed from outside North Dakota. Move to 2013, and the numbers began to change—28% of the charges were now felonies, 76% of those felonies involved methamphetamine, 18% involved meth paraphernalia, 25% were marijuana, and 28% involved misdemeanor paraphernalia. 2014 got worse—19% were felonies, 78% were methamphetamine, 18% involved meth paraphernalia, 31% were marijuana and 32% were misdemeanor paraphernalia. For 2015, 15% of cases filed were felony possession cases, 30% of those were heroin or prescription drug offenses (non-meth), 40% were marijuana possession cases, and 39% were misdemeanor paraphernalia cases. Please recall that the latter number is radically skewed because, commencing with August 1st, the State legislature reduced ALL drug paraphernalia charges to make them misdemeanors instead of felonies.
So, that’s where we are today as we move to the future. DUI’s and violent crime (excepting that caused by addled drug suspects) are static or dropping. Dunn County is safer. The bad news is that we have a drug problem and, I very much want to get a handle on it. Our seasoned citizens should not be afraid to sit in their homes and be startled by the red lights and armed officers. By the same token, our younger citizens, particularly parents with young children (the future of our community), have a right to be safe on our roads, in public and at home too. The lion’s share of the calls to my office have been from these parents in favor of this stepped-up enforcement. So, lets meet at the Drug Summit on Thursday, February 11, 2016, at 7:00 PM, at the County Road & Maintenance building in Killdeer. A DrugCAP if you will. A united front will stop this before it takes root. For more information, feel free to call the Dunn County Herald at (701) 764-5312 or, my office at (701) 764- 5933.