FARGO — Scott Normandin walks up to 20,000 steps or about 10 miles every day as a Fargo downtown resource officer during his shift that runs from 2 p.m. to midnight or 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. In the winter, the count drops to about 5,000 steps.
Along the way, he often stops to talk with "the regulars" he sees downtown.
"Hey, how you doing Milton?" he asked one of the men he often sees sitting on a bench during one of his walks this past week. He asked him about his injured arm and about his family.
"I heard your little brother was in town," Normandin asked him.
"No, it's my son," Milton replied.
"I suppose he's better looking than you," Normandin joked.
"No, no, no," the man answered.
Just a few more steps down the street the friendly officer who smiles readily encountered another man he sees almost daily, asking him if he had found a burger to eat that day.
"No, not yet," the man replied.
"Most of the guys hanging out down here are really good guys, especially when they are sober," Normandin said. "They would give their shirt off their back to anybody. A couple of them, though, when they get drunk, that's when the problems start. Most of the guys are good to talk to and work with."
And if needed, the officers can lead the homeless people or those with mental health or drug and alcohol problems to find the resources they may need.
"We can help them out," Normandin said.
More residents are walking the streets and visiting establishments as downtown continues to bloom. More housing — and people — are on their way as another 165 housing units are planned to be finished this year, with another 425 to be added in the next two years, according to city statistics.
But things do go wrong.
Crime statistics show a fairly steady number of crimes in the past five years, according to statistics provided by the Fargo Police Department. Of course, the numbers are nothing to be overlooked. Last year there were 80 aggravated assaults, 277 simple assaults, 15 robberies and 21 sexual crimes and one murder. The total of those "personal crimes" for the year were 468, not much different than the 422 five years ago, according to the statistics.
Those numbers five years ago in 2014 show there were even more simple assaults at 283, robberies at 22 and murders at two, said the police department stats.
When looking at "personal crimes," which include the assaults and robberies, the numbers are pretty steady and similar across all four of the districts that police divided the city into, said Deputy Police Chief Todd Osmundson.
It's in no way an everyday occurrence that a major crime occurs downtown, especially on a hot summer night in July with people filling the downtown streets, flocking to the ice cream shops or out for dinner or a drink.
"There's a lot of events to go to and a lot of cool stuff," Osmundson said. "It's vibrant and alive."
A safe downtown
In his personal life, Osmundson and his wife spend a lot of their evenings downtown attending events or visiting the establishments.
"I love it down here," said the former patrol officer who works out of the downtown police station.
So do Sandy and Dean Badinger of Fargo, who were enjoying dinner on a downtown patio as Normandin walked by on his beat near the new Roberts Common apartment complex.
"We've never had any problems, " Sandy said. "We love downtown. In fact we are thinking of moving down here. We think generally everything is taken care of here pretty well."
As for feeling safe, the couple both replied, "Absolutely."
Normandin, a veteran of 14 years on the police force who has been walking the streets of the downtown area called Beat 11 for more than four of those years, couldn't agree more.
He sees the beauty of the downtown and said his best experiences are walking the streets on foot and interacting with the public, who often thank him for what the police do.
"I even had one lady ask me if she could give me a hug and say a prayer for me. We get a lot of the praise that the officers in the squad cars don't get because we get to deal with the public directly," he said.
Working with businesses
Despite his time on foot patrol, most of his experiences on a typical day involve working with businesses.
"We talk to the business people about their main concerns. A lot of businesses have been here for years, but there's also new businesses and we try to meet with them and tell them what to expect and give them our phone numbers so they can call us directly," Normandin said.
He splits the downtown resource officer duties with Officer Jesseca White, who works the day shift from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Ten other officers are assigned to downtown, who sometimes join them on foot patrol, but they are often are on calls in the downtown area in their squad cars. Normandin said the officers sometimes drive around in unmarked cars or go undercover in plain clothes to monitor the streets as "they change things up."
One of the main situations with businesses is when doors are accidentally left open. Normandin said he often checks doors to see if they are locked on his shift. Especially in the winter, he said people will enter buildings or even the skywalks to find a warm place to sleep and damage can occur.
Normandin said they also work "hand-in-hand" with bar owners to work through problems and to "try to keep them under wraps."
"They work well with us, too," he said.
That can be a big job as there are 18 liquor-only bars downtown and 41 restaurants that also serve booze.
Most of the bar problems occur later at night and on weekends, especially when the college students return. Some of the problems are underage drinking.
Also the homeless are sometimes caught urinating in public or nabbed for other alcohol-related issues.
Aggressive panhandling is another concern. Sometimes the panhandling involves looking for money for another drink or sometimes just for food, said Osmundson.
There has been some criticism that the homeless can't afford the tickets they are given, but Osmundson said there has to be "some responsibility and accountability."
Normandin added that there is a community service program that White started where college students without a lot of extra money or the homeless can help with projects downtown such as cleaning up different areas to pay off fines.. One student, he said, helped set up for a parade to help pay off his fine.
The officer said the range of people and their opinions on panhandling and the homeless downtown is as diverse as the people themselves. He said there are a regular group of people who will give sandwiches to the homeless downtown, but refuse to give money. Some of the homeless who are ticketed for aggressive panhandling can get a ticket and then, strangely enough, the person that gave them the money can get upset because the ticket was given, Normandin said.
"We try to find a happy medium," on the panhandling, he said.
Tips for the public
As for as any fights downtown, Normadin said they can occur after heavy drinking but he said "very few" are random fights, rather they often involve people who know each other.
Osmundson said the best thing to do in a fight or confrontational situation is to "just walk away."
He also urges people to watch their alcohol consumption as it can impair their judgment.
With the diversity of people, both in color and of varying socioeconomic status, plus the increasing density of people, the downtown situation can be complex, Osmundson said.
However, he encourages people to be "responsible and not put themselves in a vulnerable position."
Normandin said police can also be called to escort people to their vehicles if they sense an uncomfortable situation.
Both Normandin and Osmundson said they agree that the downtown remains "extremely safe," and that it's a far cry from some other U.S. cities where people don't even dare venture downtown.
When people mention problems with downtown Fargo, Normandin sometimes wonders if they've ever been to some other larger cities.
The goal in the end, however, is to try to keep the core of the city as safe as possible.
"We want people to come down here and have a good time," Normandin said.
Added Osmundson, "At the end of the day, it's a great place to come work, play and shop."