Across the state, law enforcement is reporting an increase in shootings. Those at the helm of western North Dakota’s largest agencies say this has been an upward trend for a few years now.
“We gotta get a handle on this,” Bismarck Chief of Police Dave Draovitch began.
He says officers responded to seven shootings in the Capital City in 2020, compared to none the year before and three of the 2020 instances were just in December.
“Only one so far here in 2021, but it’s still very concerning to us,” Chief Draovitch added.
Unlike the majority of shootings in the last couple of years, this one was fatal for one of the two victims.
“Where we’re seeing the most violence is coming from people who are not from North Dakota,” Draovitch explained.
“There’s not a lot I can talk about the most recent homicide, but those people were shooting indiscriminately. They were…I mean, they were just plain old wanting to shoot people, and thank God nobody else was hurt.”
Devante Evans and Kevin Hartson, both charged in the murder of a 26-year-old Bismarck man, are from Detriot.
“There is, most oftentimes, a drug nexus with these shootings,” Draovitch added.
“We’ve had several of those. They’re just really difficult to work,” said Lt. Pat Haug, with the Mandan Police Department.
“A lot of times, in these cases, you know, they don’t want to talk to us because there’s always those underlying other offenses.”
Lt. Haug says it doesn’t show so far in 2021, but major violent crime has climbed over the last two to three years, including shootings.
“I think we’ve only had one or two this year. Last year we were probably in that roughly five,” he shared.
In Minot, shootings quadrupled for the Police Department from three in 2019 to 12 in 2020, with one so far in 2021.
“For many years, we had drug problems in our communities, but we didn’t have the violence that came with it,” said Burleigh County Sheriff Kelly Leben.
“Now we’re starting to see that violence that was typical across the nation, but foreign to us in North Dakota and Burleigh County.”
Sheriff Leben says the Bismarck Police Department used to see higher instances of violent crime due to the lower population throughout the rest of the county, but these days, he says it’s more comparable with one murder in both 2019 and 2020.
“We’ve gone many years out in the rural areas of Burleigh County where there hasn’t been a murder, so then for us to have to investigate two of them in back-to-back years, it does make you stop and say, ‘What’s going on out there?'” Leben added.
He says Burleigh County deputies deal with more local-on-local crime, but the Burleigh Morton Detention Center is starting to fill more and more with people from out of state.
“We’re happy to look for the large, drug-dealing criminals, the violent criminals that are coming here, but if we can stop the demand, all of this goes away,” Chief Draovitch concluded.
He says discussions with state and federal partners are ongoing to get to the core of the problem.
Lt. Haug adds, when crimes involving a gun happen, usually the weapon was obtained illegally, sometimes stolen. He says this means North Dakotans need to keep their weapons locked up, even in their cars. The Mandan officer says a gun sitting on a backseat is just asking to be stolen.
Sheriff Leben says crimes involving guns are often what get the most attention across the country.
Meanwhile, other violent crimes have increased as well.
Chief Draovitch says, in Bismarck, aggravated assaults were up by more than 45% from 2019 to 2020. He adds, more than 50% of those were domestic cases, which was a concern for the police department going into the pandemic. But, drug crime adds to this statistic as well.
There are fewer aggravated assaults so far this year than at the same time in 2020: 50 compared to 36.
“So it’s not a huge difference, but at least it is smaller,” Chief Draovitch said.
“So, when I looked at the annual report for 2020, the statistics, I mean that’s a big number. We don’t see that happen here. I mean, that’s just never happened here that I can remember, where we’ve seen a big jump like that.”
The Minot Police Dept. has seen 13 aggravated assaults in 2021. At this same time last year, that number was 19, and by April of 2019, there had been 8.
Lt. Haug says Mandan Police saw between 15 and 20 more aggravated assaults in 2020 than the year before. He adds weapons like knives are becoming more common in these cases.