Attorney General Demands Budget Increase Amid Criticism of North Dakota Crime Lab – InForum

BISMARCK — North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley said Wednesday, Nov. 16, that he plans to ask lawmakers to give his office a significant budget increase citing a need to retain staff and a fully operational state crime lab to operate.

The Republican incumbent told reporters he is seeking a “significant” increase from the bureau’s current two-year budget of $96.4 million, including funding to hire more detectives and forensic lab technicians. Wrigley said parts of his agency desperately need pay and staff increases, noting he will “go to war” to ensure budget requests are fully accommodated.

Wrigley declined to disclose the full amount of his proposed budget, which he submitted to Gov. Doug Burgum. The Republican governor will release his official budget recommendations next month. A spokesman for Burgum declined to comment on Wrigley’s budget proposal.

Budget clerks in the North Dakota Legislature, who have not yet been named, will ultimately decide the size of Wrigley’s budget when they meet next year.

Strengthening the state crime lab is a core priority for Wrigley, who said police across the state have complained to him about the restrictions at the South Bismarck facility.

Since a cut several years ago under former attorney general Wayne Stenehjem, the lab has not been able to test guns seized by law enforcement in criminal cases, Wrigley said. Local police have sent firearms to expensive private labs to obtain vital forensic information, leading to roadblocks for prosecutors, he said. The state lab also lacks the capacity to test fingerprints left at crime scenes.

Wrigley said he wants to hire more firearms and fingerprint examiners, add equipment and physically expand the state lab to accommodate more activities.

The Forum reported last month that more than 250 rape kits were waiting to be tested at the state lab, although Wrigley said that number has since fallen. The Attorney General noted that increasing the budget for the lab would help clear the backlog of rape kits.

Wrigley’s plans also include bringing the lab under the direction of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation — a proposal criticized by a lab employee who said taking on police officers would harm the institution’s independence, according to the report by Forum- Columnist Rob Port. Wrigley argued that the move would help clear up backlogs, noting that most public labs are tied to criminal investigative agencies.

Federal Criminal Police Office

The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation needs at least three more agents to help enforce drug laws on Native American reservations, Wrigley said.

The Spirit Lake Tribe earlier this year agreed to allow BCI agents and local police to enforce federal laws, including those related to illegal drug trafficking, on their reservation in northeast North Dakota. A BCI officer is already working with the police on the reservation.

BCI Director Lonnie Grabowska said his agency is in talks to finalize similar deals with three other tribes: the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. Agents located near the reservations could help set up drug task forces to crack down on the illegal trade, Grabowska said.

Wrigley said it has been difficult to retain staff in the attorney general’s office, including attorneys, because of salary constraints. Part of his budget proposal calls for pay increases based on performance to encourage employees to stay. The office has 253 full-time employees.

The attorney general also noted that he had requested funding to add positions in the agency’s gaming division and expand support for its Medicaid fraud unit.