FARGO – Serious crimes reported to police rose by double-digit rates for the second year in a row in 2016, according the Police Department’s annual report released Monday, March 20.

The number of so-called “Part I” crimes -- including serious assaults, burglary, robbery, thefts, sexual assault and homicide -- totaled 4,255, an increase of 14 percent compared to 2015.

In 2015, the number of such crimes increased 15 percent.

Police Chief David Todd said Monday he believes the metro area’s growth and strong economy is attracting more criminals even as his department is still “playing catch up” as it tries to hire more officers.

Criminals drawn to the state’s Oil Patch during the boom appear to be finding new opportunities in Fargo as falling oil prices caused the western economy to shrink, Todd said.

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At the same time, the epidemic of addiction to opiates continues to contribute to the “fairly significant increase” in thefts, he said.

“We’re becoming more urban; our city is growing,” Mayor Tim Mahoney said. “We're going to have the issues of urban growth. You're going to have crime issues going on. What we really have to do is focus on how we can impact that.”

One of the big drivers of the rising rate of serious crimes was thefts of various kinds, not including robberies and burglaries. In both 2015 and 2016, these thefts increased in a big way in numerical and percentage terms. In 2016, they totaled 3,309, an increase of 20 percent. In 2015, they totaled 2,753, an increase of 15 percent. Then, as now, police blamed the increase on opiate addiction.

Among other serious crimes, the number of homicides were unchanged at three, sexual assault increased 18 percent to 79, robberies increased 30 percent to 69, burglaries decreased 6 percent to 564, arsons decreased 42 percent to 11 and aggravated assaults increased 7 percent to 257.

The number of reported Part II crimes, which are less serious crimes such as simple assaults, vandalism and driving under the influence, totaled 10,296, a decrease of 4 percent. The number of DUI arrests, in particular, totaled 550, a decrease of 16 percent.

Todd said drunken driving may be dropping because drivers are getting the message about its dangers or because of the increase in taxi services provided by Uber drivers.

The increased number of calls for services – calls totaled 78,784, an increase of 5 percent – may have also kept officers busy and preventing them from spending as much time looking for drunk drivers.

Altogether, the number of all reported crimes increased by 3 percent.

The number of crimes reported in Fargo appears be growing faster than its population. Over the past five years, the population of the city and the surrounding metro area has grown around 3 percent a year, but the number of serious reported crimes has increased by a double-digit percentage every year except in 2014, when it decreased 3 percent. The number of all reported crimes increased by single digits except in 2015, when it increased 16 percent.

Based on Census population estimates, the number of serious crimes per 1,000 residents increased from 27 in 2011 to 31 in 2015. 2016 estimates aren’t yet available, but if the population grew 3 percent the number of serious crimes would reach 35 per 1,000 residents.

Over the last two years, the city has been trying to mount a stronger response to crime. Metro-area police departments have formed a street crimes unit together. The city has put in more street lights in the Roosevelt neighborhood in response to residents’ complaints of more crime. Local governments have begun tackling the opiate epidemic by focusing on treating addiction. City commissioners agreed to increase the budget to hire more officers.

Todd said the department is still trying to hire eight more officers to reach the 174 sworn officers authorized by city leaders. It takes about nine months to hire and train an officer, so those eight may not be in place by year’s end, he said.

When he became interim chief two years ago, he said the department was at 1.29 officers per 1,000 residents. Now it’s at 1.45, he said.

“I think we’re slowly getting there,” he said.

Still, Mahoney said, the public will have an important role to play by helping police solve crimes in their neighborhoods.

On the Web: To see Fargo police annual reports go to http://bit.ly/1ASxdzv.