FARGO - In announcing a suspect's arrest last week in two brutal Fargo killings, interim Police Chief Dave Todd said the city is a "good, safe community" despite the homicides.
As police and other authorities here often do, Todd described the region as safe relative to other similar cities.
But it's a different story if you compare modern-day Fargo to what it was like in previous generations. It was once far less violent than the U.S. as a whole. Now Fargo is more violent than the national average, according to FBI statistics.
In 1993, Fargo had 122 violent crimes reported per 100,000 people. By 2013, the most recent year available, that had ballooned to 401 per 100,000.
At the same time, the national rate fell by half. In 1993, there were 747 violent crimes per 100,000 in the U.S. In 2013, that had dipped to 368 per 100,000. Violent crimes, as defined by the FBI stats, include murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
Asked Friday about Fargo's rising rate of violent crime over the long term, Todd said police have battled to hold the line on crime, despite seeing service calls rise. In 2009, the department answered 48,062 calls, Todd said. This year, he expects 69,000 to 70,000 calls.
Gang activity has also increased, he said. Metro-area police recently launched a new multi-agency task force meant to address street crimes, such as gang activity.
"We've kind of known for some time that this is going to turn on us and that we're going to have an increase in crime. Just because the city is growing," Todd said.
So have we hit a size where more regular acts of horrendous violence is the new normal?
"I'm not ready to acquiesce yet to that. I don't want it to become a new normal for us," Todd said.
"Are we going to see some more violent crime? I think that's very possible."
Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said he believes the city is still a safe place. He said residents take pride in that feeling of safety, and it's almost an expectation that crimes are solved quickly.
Still, Fargo is becoming more urban, and with size comes problems, Mahoney said. And it sounds like he'd support hiring more cops.
Fargo is now at 1.3 officers per 1,000 people, he said, but other cities invest more in policing.
"I was in San Francisco. And it's amazing to me how many policemen are on the streets. Almost every two blocks I'd run into a guy. They have a lot of people walking the streets," Mahoney said.
A suspect, Ashley Kenneth Hunter, was charged last week with murder in the deaths of Samuel Traut and Clarence Flowers, which mark the second and third homicides of 2015 in Fargo.
That makes it the first time in at least 20 years that Fargo has seen at least three homicides three years in a row, after four in 2014 and three in 2013. Todd said at Wednesday's news conference about Hunter's arrest that he considered the recent increase in homicides an "aberration."
The killing of Flowers and Traut follows a string of well-publicized violent incidents, many of them downtown and in north Fargo-including an alleged armed robbery that led to a shootout with police earlier this month.
Though it's prompted questions about how or if the city has changed, some residents say they are mostly more careful than fearful.
Whitney Myhra, general manager of the Wurst Bier Hall, said she and her employees at the downtown restaurant and bar are more vigilant, thanks to recent incidents.
For instance, a Wurst employee suffered facial fractures Wednesday in an assault about 2 a.m. outside the Empire Tavern, according to police reports. An hour earlier, a man pulled a knife in a brawl outside a downtown arts supplies store. That led to two arrests.
"I carry pepper spray now. I never thought I'd have to carry pepper spray, but I do," Myhra said. "Having that little extra bit of protection is not a bad idea."
Wurst employees leave the restaurant in groups at closing time. Off-duty employees call the restaurant to warn co-workers of suspicious activity. Employees let customers know if there are unusual happenings, she said.
Others say they feel plenty safe in Fargo. On Thursday, Kate Henne of Moorhead was part of a small group that had just finished lunch at Wurst.
"At 9 at night, I would be here. Downtown Fargo is very comfortable," she said. "When I'm downtown, I feel like I know someone every 100 feet."
But Henne was surprised to hear Fargo's violent crime rate had risen above the national rate.
"That's not a good trend," she said.
Ian Hanson, 36, was the barista Thursday afternoon at Atomic Coffee downtown. He's lived in Fargo and the Twin Cities.
In the Twin Cities, he said he'd hear about shootings in St. Paul's Frogtown, or muggings in Minneapolis' Uptown, or other crimes. Both St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to FBI figures, do have violent crime rates roughly twice as high as Fargo's.
"It's the white noise; things happen," Hanson said of the Twin Cities.
He said many crimes there seemed to be tied to gang activity, while "here it's people getting drunk and doing stupid (stuff)."
Steve Engbrecht, 53, just returned to Fargo. He lived in Fresno, Calif., for the past 23 years, a place he said was once considered one of the least-safe communities in the nation.
"It's tame," Engbrecht said of Fargo, as barber Joel Brehmer finished his haircut at Graver Barbers downtown.
Though the stats show a rising level of violence in Fargo overall, Brehmer said the city's core was much seedier in decades past.
"When I first started here (in 1995), it wasn't the greatest" place to be. It's definitely gotten a little better and cleaned up a lot more," Brehmer said.
His wife used to worry about him going to his downtown shop in the evenings.
"Now, heck, there's people hanging out all over the place," Brehmer said.