Why Are We Counting People Charged, Not People Convicted, For Western North Dakota Crime?

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“Number of federal defendants up 31% in western North Dakota,” reads the Mike Nowatzki headline in the Fargo Forum. The numbers were released by North Dakota’s hyper-partisan US Attorney Tim Purdon (you know, the duck guy) who says “I don’t expect that to stop anytime soon.”

First, this is an odd metric to use. The number of defendants in a case is somewhat arbitrary. As Nowtazki reports, “the number of criminal cases filed in the Minot-based northwest region and Bismarck-based southwest region actually decreased by three cases from 2012 to 2013.” Why would defendants be the headline, and not the number of cases?

It almost seems like a hyper-partisan US Attorney with a history of being anti-oil is cherry-picking the worst sounding statistics for the oil patch region.

Also, nowhere mentioned in the article are prosecution success rates. How many of these people being charged are actually being convicted? Half? Most? All? Purdon doesn’t seem to be offering, and Nowatzki apparently didn’t ask.

And then there’s this:

While the number of defendants was up 31 percent in the west last year, the Fargo-based southeast region and Grand Forks-based northeast region saw a combined decrease of 24 percent, from 202 to 154 defendants.

The number of criminal cases filed in the east also fell from 125 to 97, which Purdon attributed in part to shifting resources from his office and from federal law enforcement agencies to the west.

There is always a danger in crime statistics being skewed by the actions of law enforcement. “If you put more cops on the street, you get more arrests,” the saying goes. But more arrests doesn’t necessarily mean crime is up or down. It just means the cops are arresting more people, and arrests or even the charges metric cited in the article doesn’t tell us anything about how many people are actually guilty.

Would the number of federal criminal charges in eastern North Dakota have rivaled western North Dakota had the same level of resources been applied in both areas? Maybe.

The article points to one federal law enforcement operation in western North Dakota – “Operation Winter’s End” – that resulted in charges for 40 people. That single operation is 50% of the increase in the number of people charged in western North Dakota.

I’m not saying that crime isn’t up in western North Dakota. You can’t pack more people – especially those who tend to skew toward the young and male ends of the demographic scales – into an area without getting more crime. But this is a complicated issue, and there are mitigating circumstances, not the least of which is how federal law enforcement chooses to do its job.

Complicating all of this is a thoroughly political US Attorney who, based on past actions, seems very interested in creating a very negative perception of crime in western North Dakota.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • http://flamemeister.com flamemeister

    In case you haven’t noticed, the MSM and this Administration find North Dakota oil a real pain in the ass. Anything short of production perfection and glitch-free transport of oil by ex-Sunday-school teachers is pounced on and amplified to the point one gets the impression its all a run-up to nationalizing the ND oil fields.

  • Onslaught1066

    Because it makes the number bigger, and the crisis scarier.

  • devilschild

    Tim Purdon has completely failed the people on the SLR. I don’t know how he sleeps at night or how he can look himself in the mirror. I can only hope that his guilty conscience is eating away at him.

    • yy4u2

      For that to happen, the layers of narcissism would have to be taken away. His job is all about politics and not about the people.

      • http://ndgoon.blogspot.com/ Goon’s ND Redneck

        Wasn’t he appointed by Obumble? That’s all we need to know.

  • JoeMN

    How many of these people being charged are actually being convicted?
    Half? Most? All? Purdon doesn’t seem to be offering, and Nowatzki
    apparently didn’t ask.

    _______

    My guess is that it has something to do with being selected “dodo of the year”
    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052970204616504577170853989728824

  • Guest

    SAB rules:
    Oil workers in western ND = Innocent until proven guilty
    Public employees and college athletes = guilty

    The only thing more hypocritical that could come out of Rob is an article about personal fitness and diet. Do you ever look in the mirror Rob? You might be surprised to find your hypocrisy is most disgusting personal attribute.

    • NDConservative

      For the most part, the group of college athletes who were charged with a crime were proven guilty, and some have not completed their obligations.
      Oil workers out west are being singled out by a weak political hack known as a US Attorney. Purdon has the Fargo Forum in his pocket therefore we see so called news such as his skewed crime report.
      Guest is using a personal attack to support his extremely weak argument which is typical for someone who lacks solid debating skills.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Petty insults from a small minded internet troll.

      Yawn.

      • Guest

        nice defense of your hypocrisy. Yawn.

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          Sorry if I don’t take your childish comments seriously.

          Is an expectation for valid data from a fair prosecutor really so galling to you?

          • Guest

            No, not galling at all. I just think you ought to have that same expectation of fairness when you’re busy ripping people apart that have merely been charged or even less here on your blog. You don’t reciprocate that kind of fairness to people on the opposite side of the spectrum, nor would I expect you to. You’re a partisan tool without any real objectivity. I just thought you ought to know what hypocrisy looks like from people who live in the center.

    • http://ndgoon.blogspot.com/ Goon’s ND Redneck

      So, attacking the blogger about his personal appearance instead of arguing on the facts. The NDSU athletes broke the law.

  • tim johnson

    PORT SAID:
    “I’m not saying that crime isn’t up in western North Dakota. You can’t pack more people – especially those who tend to skew toward the young and male ends of the demographic scales – into an area without getting more crime. But this is a complicated issue, and there are mitigating circumstances, not the least of which is how federal law enforcement chooses to do its job.

    Complicating all of this is a thoroughly political US Attorney who, based on past actions, seems very interested in creating a very negative perception of crime in western North Dakota.”

    so, Port, are you :”very interested in creating a very positive perception of crime in western North Dakota.” ???
    Sheesh! You are carping – inconsistently, haltingly, inchoately (I’m against the federal prosecutor speaking out about crime being up in western ND….er, but… I’m not saying crime isnt’ up in western ND….er… I just don’t like Tim Purdon and I don’t like him spouting off all the time about how bad crime is.. doesn’t he have something better to do???””
    Why don’t you admit publicly that you literally are in the pocket of Big Oil and are serving that master at every turn,,,, so if people get killed at higher rates on the roads by oil trucks or killed in drug deals or oil rig accidents, your job is to tamp down any discontent, whistle by the graveyard and say, “move on, nothing happening here.”
    Let’s boil this down: You are criticizing North Dakota’s top federal prosecutor for reporting that federal crimes are up in western North Dakota….??
    Would you rather he would just shut up about crime in North Dakota? Do you even read your own posts. (Is that why they say ‘dumb as a post?’)
    You’re not even being a hater as much as a dimwitter…….

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      I’m criticizing North Dakotas very partisan us attorney for cherry picking statistics that sound superficially bad but tell us very little concrete about what’s going on.

      Sorry for my preference for valid data from objective sources.

  • tim johnson

    PS: Port, you could have done a little research..
    You wrote: :Also, nowhere mentioned in the article are prosecution success rates. How many of these people being charged are actually being convicted? Half? Most? All? Purdon doesn’t seem to be offering, and Nowatzki apparently didn’t ask.”
    You should know this, generally; but if not, you know you could have looked it up in about 22 seconds (do you know they have the Internet on computers now?):
    A full 97 percent of those charged with drug crimes in federal court plead guilty to avoid trial and the draconian sentences common under widely criticized federal guidelines…. And I guarandamntee you that of the 3 percent who dare to go to to trial on federal drug charges, that less than, say, roughly 0.0001 percent win acquittals.
    so there, you got your stats….
    Anymore ill-thought out questions?

    By the way, my critical but highly intelligent comments on this post are done good-naturedly in the spirit of “you can do better,” and I congratulate you for your fine (sometimes not fine enough) blog.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Tim, I mentioned that the conviction rates weren’t mentioned in the article. Is that really an unfair expectation? That we count, as criminals, people who are actually found guilty of committing crimes?

      And you’re glossing over other points, like the shift in resources. If you put more cops on the street, you get more arrests. That doesn’t necessarily mean actual criminal acrs are up or down.

      All I’m asking for is a fair presentation of the facts. I think Purdon is cherry-picking numbers to promote as negative a view as he can, because he’s a partisan trying to score political points.

      That’s unfortunate.

      • TS

        “I mentioned that the conviction rates weren’t mentioned in the article. Is that really an unfair expectation? That we count, as criminals, people who are actually found guilty of committing crimes?”

        It’s a good point. If it took Tim Johnson 22 seconds to find that, that means it also could have taken the reporter 22 seconds to find it too – or maybe 5 seconds to ask it since he had the guy on the phone anyway. It’s a reporter’s job to find all the facts (that’s what they taught when I went to journalism school, anyway). You can’t expect every member of the general public to take that 22 seconds to do their own research either. In fact, you usually can’t count on the public to read the lead paragraph if you are even lucky to keep their attention past the headline. So, at least Rob is asking that much, because clearly not many people, including the reporter thought to – and even fewer were forthcoming with that fact in the first place.

        • devilschild

          applause…

        • ec99

          ” It’s a reporter’s job to find all the facts ”
          You are operating under the false premise that those who work for Forum Comm are reporters.

          • devilschild

            I woman who writes a blog about the SLR calls them stenographers.

          • ec99

            That’s what used to call them til I realized I was insulting stenographers.

    • JoeMN

      A full 97 percent of those charged with drug crimes in federal court
      plead guilty to avoid trial and the draconian sentences common under
      widely criticized federal guidelines.

      _________
      Quickly,
      What’s the federal conviction rate for oil companies accused of violating the Migratory Birds Treaty Act ?
      I thought so.

  • borborygmi45

    seems like a hyper-partisan US Attorney with a history of being anti-oil is cherry-picking the worst sounding statistics……..It does….. I wonder if any furry bloggers from Minot cherry pick statistics and charts?

  • Bat 1

    It seems to me that your US Attorney is primarily interested in padding his resume while waiting to be hailed as a hero and whisked back to a more civilized, inside-the-beltway position in the next Democrat administration. But then, that’s about what was expected when his appointment was announced, wasn’t it?

  • borborygmi45

    Lets just count jail bookings

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