FARGO — Crime rose slightly in Fargo last year, but the number of homicides tripled from 2017 to 2018 in what the city’s police chief called an unusual jump.
The Fargo Police Department responded to 89,565 calls for service and investigated 11,775 offenses last year, according to an annual report presented Monday night, April 22, during a City Commission meeting. The calls for service remained steady, but the year-over-year offense count rose 3 percent, the report said.
Chief David Todd said the department has met staffing challenges as the city grows. He told city commissioners his agency currently has 24 officers who are not on the street for various reasons, including some who are at training academies. From the date an officer is hired, it can take eight months to a year to get them on the streets, Todd said.
According to the annual report, robberies dropped 9 percent from 69 in 2017 to 63 in 2018. Meanwhile, burglaries jumped 19 percent, with 575 in 2017 and 687 last year.
Sexual assaults also increased 19 percent, with 99 reported in 2017 and 118 last year. Aggravated assaults rose 15 percent, with 261 in 2017 and 300 last year, the report said.
But probably the most dramatic increase came in the homicide category. Fargo officers investigated six homicides last year, a 200 percent increase from 2017, which had two homicides, according to the report.
“It's not a low number for Fargo,” Todd told The Forum. “We are usually around two to three homicides a year.”
Still, the chief said he felt Fargo was a safe place to live, noting the homicides involved victims and suspects who knew each other. “I don’t think people feel unsafe because of that,” he said.
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The first of Fargo’s six homicides last year was the beating death of Jarryd Heis, 32, in early March. He had been drinking with the man accused of murdering him, Daniel Habiger, 30. Habiger was sentenced to 14 years in prison and three years of supervised probation.
In early May, Ginny Lubitz, 36, of West Fargo, allegedly drowned her newborn baby at a friend’s Fargo home. She is facing murder charges.
In early June, Louis Averson fatally shot his wife, Ila Averson, and he shot himself, but survived. The pair, both elderly and in ill health, had reportedly made a suicide pact. Murder charges were dropped when prosecutors agreed Louis Averson, who suffers from a major neurocognitive disorder, lacked the capacity to understand the legal proceedings against him.
On Sept. 8, Alan Bear fatally stabbed Jakob Dirks, 23, at a hotel, killing Dirks. Police later released Bear upon learning he was defending himself against an attempted robbery by Dirks and two others.
On Sept. 21, the body of Kevin Riley Sr., 60, was found in an apartment. The coroner determined he had been beaten and shot. His son, Christopher Riley, 35, has been charged with murder.
The sixth homicide occurred early Sept. 23. Gabriel Perez was killed in a drive-by shooting outside the McDonald's restaurant on Main Avenue in downtown. The alleged shooter, Miguel Jay Cooley Sr., 45, of Moorhead, is awaiting trial on a murder charge.
Felonies and serious crimes, including violent offenses, increased 3 percent from 2017 to 2018, with a total of 4,370 offenses reported in Fargo, according to the annual report. The remaining offenses — misdemeanors — rose 3 percent to 7,405 incidents.
Police officers made fewer arrests last year compared with 2017 — that number dropped 7 percent to 6,592 in 2018. There also were 10 percent fewer traffic violations issued last year versus 2017, with officers writing 13,366 citations, the report said.
Todd attributed the drop in traffic violations to the elimination of the department's traffic bureau, which had about six officers, who were reassigned to regular beats.
The department responded to fewer drug overdoses last year, according to the report. Thirty incidents were tallied last year, compared with 40 in 2017. That’s also down from a high of 66 in 2016, according to the annual report for that year.
Eleven people died from drug overdoses in 2018, a 45 percent drop from the 20 reported in 2017, according to police figures.