'Holding down the lid on a boiling pot': FM police chiefs reveal the 3 primary issues that are driving local crime

MOORHEAD -- The Fargo-Moorhead area needs to expand mental health and drug addiction services and work to get career criminals off the streets with longer prison sentences to become a safer community, metro police chiefs told business and communi...
Fargo Police Chief David Todd speaks Tuesday, April 3, 2018, at a Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce event in Moorhead about crime in the metro area. Helmut Schmidt / The Forum

MOORHEAD - The Fargo-Moorhead area needs to expand mental health and drug addiction services and work to get career criminals off the streets with longer prison sentences to become a safer community, metro police chiefs told business and community leaders Tuesday, April 3.

During an Eggs & Issues event hosted by The Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce, Fargo Chief David Todd said cooperation between area law enforcement agencies has been vital to addressing problems.

"What affects one of our communities affects all of our communities," he said to attendees at the Courtyard by Marriott, 1080 28th Ave. S.

Todd said in 2017, homicides, robberies, burglaries and other felony-level crimes remained about the same as the year before. But lesser crimes, such as misdemeanor thefts, vandalism, trespassing, driving under the influence, drug offenses, were on the rise.

Addiction-driven behaviors, including thefts for drug money, were especially driving calls for service, Todd said.

"We have a number of people in our community that are not getting effective treatment or longer-term treatment that they need," he said, and their actions get them arrested.

Career criminals are also committing a lot of crimes.

"This is what they do for a living, they steal," Todd said.

For career criminals who may leave "a wake of victims" behind them, sometimes prison is the best solution, Todd said.

It may cost $40,000 a year to keep someone in a North Dakota prison, but he said "$40,000 is not that big of a number" compared to the damage some criminals can do in a year to other people.

"Some people work hard" at going to prison, agreed Moorhead Chief David Ebinger. "They're willing to put the effort in, we should reward them" with time in prison.

Deadly force

West Fargo Chief Heith Janke worries the metro area is not prepared for "active shooter" incidents.

"It's stuff like this that keeps me up at night," Janke said.

Janke said two communities in the Kansas City area - where he worked for the FBI for a time - experienced two hate-fueled shooting incidents in three years.

"There's no place that's immune anymore," Janke said. He said the F-M area must be proactive and prepared to thwart those who turn to guns to vent their hate or exact revenge for perceived wrongs.

Janke said opioid use is a concern, but there has also been a rise in methamphetamine use.

"That's what scares us," Janke said.

Despite the large drug busts taking place on the region's highways, "I would say we're not even getting 2 percent of it." Todd said. "You feel like you're holding down the lid on a boiling pot."

Ebinger said the new Clay County Jail and the county-owned law enforcement center being built in Moorhead will be the most modern in the state.

Ebinger said the new jail will save $1 million a year over transporting prisoners and housing them in other counties' jails. It will also have space for programs to address prisoners' mental health and substance abuse issues.

Jail is not meant to be an easy place for prisoners to live, but "they shouldn't come out worse than they went in," Ebinger said.

The chiefs also addressed the spate of officer-involved shootings in the area - four in the last two months

Todd called the shootings "a bit of an anomaly." However, he expects "We will, unfortunately, see more of these in the community" as it continues to grow.

Ebinger said police do what they can to not have to use deadly force, but if they are threatened or attacked, officers must protect themselves, because they aren't doing anyone any good if their lives end with an early funeral.

Janke said there is also a mental toll on officers involved in shootings.

Todd agreed, saying the wait as investigations are done after officer-involved shootings can be difficult, as officers consider the "what-ifs."

"That plays over and over in their head," Todd said. "That plays on their mind heavily."