Rise in ND police chases may lead to tougher sentences

Rampant incidents of criminal suspects trying to outrun authorities in police chases have landed on the radar of North Dakota’s top law enforcement official. Forum News says North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley wants state lawmakers to add jail time to the sentences of convicted offenders who endanger the public and police by attempting to flee arrest.

“It is a very, very significant law enforcement problem, and one we intend to address,” Wrigley said.

Wrigley largely attributes the increase in fleeing vehicles to the likelihood that those convicted will not receive additional jail time.

“It’s an enormous life-and-death situation (that law-enforcement officers) are being placed in all the time because a number of people fleeing are not getting additional sentences,” Wrigley told the Grand Forks Herald in August. “They’re not getting additional sentences, so why wouldn’t they try to flee?”

“There needs to be an additional sentence,” Wrigley said.

Overall, there’s been increased scrutiny of police chases in recent years, leading authorities to more closely weigh the circumstances under which they pursue suspects at high speeds. While the number of chases varies from year to year, law enforcement officers still have to be ready to respond on a moment’s notice.

According to the Grand Forks Police Department, police pursuits were on a slow but steady incline from 2019 to 2021. Last year, there were 34 police pursuits, but there were only 20 as of Nov. 22 of this year. Overall, though, Lt. Andrew Stein of the GFPD said pursuit numbers have “trended up” in the last eight to 10 years.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol, the Bismarck Police Department and the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Office also anticipate a decline in pursuits this year. The Minot Police Department, however, expects an incline.

Oddly, individuals who are convicted of a crime usually do not face an additional sentence for their involvement in a police chase in North Dakota. The courts evidently do not take the police chase into consideration as a separate offense in sentencing. But that would change under the proposed legislation.

“It’s not too much to ask that the person doing those outrageous things would get an additional sentence, on top of what they’re being sentenced for to begin with,” Wrigley said.

Wrigley intends to propose legislation that would require offenders convicted of fleeing law enforcement to serve their sentences consecutively. Ideally, judges who choose not to give additional jail time for fleeing law enforcement would be required to provide a written explanation. The length of sentences would remain under the court’s discretion.

“That’s a transparency measure. That’s an integrity-in-government measure,” Wrigley said. “We need to have even more transparency in our court system.”