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​Fargo Officials, Community Members Mull Over Safety of Downtown

by HPR Contributor | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | News | June 26th, 2019

Fargo Police cordon area near downtown after shooting in 2018 - photograph by C.S. Hagen

By Melissa Gonzalez
melissam.gonzalez@outlook.com

In the early morning hours of Friday, June 7, Kareem Lee Byrd, 19, and Charles Edward Harris III, 30, allegedly fatally shot Jason “Hollywood” Halvorson at 601 4th St. N, close to his Texas BBQ food truck.

The homicide shocked the downtown district of Fargo. Conversations across social media and news outlets demonstrated peoples’ fear of rising crime in the city that’s coinciding with the growth its experiencing.

According to the city of Fargo’s website, the number of crimes in Fargo has been steadily increasing for the last couple of years. As of the 2018 annual report released by the Fargo Police department, there was a three percent rise in crime since 2014.

According to Chief David Todd, the migration of people moving to Fargo from the western oil fields has influenced some of the crimes the city experiences, but the numbers are still low in comparison to other larger cities across the country.

Fargo Police Chief David Todd during a press conference - photograph by C.S. Hagen

Tim Jones, a stand-up comedian in Fargo, was a witness to Holvorson’s homicide. He and his girlfriend came home from a comedy show and was outside walking his dog when the crime occurred.

Jones moved to the Fargo-Moorhead community from Birmingham to get away from the violence. In the three years Jones has lived downtown, not much had changed in terms of safety.

But he never expected to witness a homicide in town, and police presence has increased in his neighborhood. After the shooting, Jones contemplated moving away.

“Fargo will never be as bad as Birmingham, and I pray it never gets like that,” Jones said. “Some bad things happen up here, though. Fargo is like any city; it has its moments. It can happen any time, anywhere.

“Never in a million years, I would have said, that would happen up here,” Jones continued. “As far as me going out, I still go places. But it has changed. I’m still weary of what’s going on. Very weary. ”

According to CityRating.com, based on the last 18 years of data collection, Fargo’s violent crime rates were lower than the national average by 2.98 percent, but higher than the state average by 53.45 percent. However, as Fargo is the largest city in the state, and continuing to grow, crime rates are expected to grow as well.

Still, Fargo officials stress that despite the rapid growth and development, the city is still safe. For people who have doubts, Mayor Tim Mahoney remains steadfast in his belief on how safe the city is.

“I think Fargo is a very safe place,” Mahoney said. “I think the death of Jason should be an opportunity to have a discussion about what’s going on and what are the ways in which we can make the city better. There may be a variety of ways of doing that…. We have a very well laid out plan on how to continue to go after this issue (of growing crime) and continuing to make Fargo safe.”

Prior to the homicide, the mayor and the Fargo Police Chief David Todd have been implementing plans to continue to increase the ratio of officers and the police presence in the community. Another part of their plan is to practice Compstat, or computer statistics, to track ‘hot spots’ of crime around town.

When those hot spots come up, it is up to the lieutenants of the geographic beats to come up with a “plan of action” to address the crime there, where it will later be analyzed and changed based on their success.

Two such hot spots, according to the mayor, include the bus depot and the library. The city is planning to have two officers patrol those areas, as well as to increase foot patrols in the downtown area.

Intelligence policing is another strategy, where the police force use intelligence and data in determining who may be committing crimes and attempting to stop their criminal behavior.

Both Mahoney and Todd agreed that alcohol and over consumption are bigger problems in the downtown district, particularly the amount of bars and off sale liquor sites. A number of service calls come from people concerned with individuals who buy liquor from off sale sites and consume alcohol in public, become intoxicated and create disturbances.

“I am not a fan of off sale liquor sales in the downtown area,” Todd said. “We have a couple of them on the northside of downtown and I think those contribute to the problems that occur. I would prefer that the off sales be out of the downtown area.”

When asked if alcohol had been a contributing factor in the homicide, Todd was unable to comment as the investigation is still open.

Downtown Fargo - photograph by C.S. Hagen

The Downtown Neighborhood Association, a non-profit organization committed to the safety of downtown, is focused on over consumption. Paul Greye, the chair of the association, agreed that the number of available off-site liquor stores are a contributing factor to lack of safety and aggressive behavior downtown, such as panhandling.

“For a long time we’ve been concerned about bars downtown and alcohol consumption influencing the public realm, which affects the quality of life,” said Gleye, who’s lived downtown for over 20 years and is a founding member of the DNA.

The DNA conducts data analysis, gathers information, receives input from community members and testifies in front of city commissioners in order to help policies get passed that can affect the drinking issue. A policy in place in other cities, called ‘The point of last drink’ is one that the association has been trying to pass.

This policy would mean that when people are arrested when inebriated, statistics would be kept on their last place of alcohol consumption. The data, ideally, would be used to track trends in bars that over-serve clients and send them back out into the public.

The association also partners with other organizations such as the Downtown Community Partnership, to address issues of common interest.

When asked about safety in regards to drinking downtown, Jones agreed that there is a problem with over consumption.

“The drinking?” Jones said. “Yeah, it’s bad. At night I try not to even walk down Broadway. I try to take the side streets and alleys.”

The city and city related organizations are continuing to develop strategies to address crime, safety and over consumption in the area.

“My advice hasn’t changed,” David Todd said. “I always tell people to be aware of their surroundings, lock their car doors, take their keys, purse or wallets to eliminate crimes of opportunity.”

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