FARGO — Fargo police sergeants know what it's like to deal with highly intoxicated residents.
They've seen it firsthand, as have their officers.
"The best way I can describe dealing with an overly intoxicated person is like riding a roller coaster when you can't see the next turn or loop," said Sgt. Jerrod Wagner, the supervisor in charge of the downtown beat.
"You have to be prepared for just about everything; sometimes they cooperate and other times they can be difficult," he said.
Sgt. Mark Lykken agreed. He said alcohol can make "people act the way they wouldn't normally."
He's seen people act "overly cooperative to downright obstinate."
So how do police deal with it?
"You sometimes have to slow things down and carefully explain what you want them to do. There can come a time when you may have to force them to do what you want them to do for their safety or our safety," said Lykken, a shift supervisory and 29-year veteran of the department.
On a darker side, Lykken said, alcohol is involved in the vast majority of assaults in the city, whether domestic or by a stranger.
The sergeant, who has taught hundreds of alcohol training classes to servers in bars and restaurants, said he tells those employees that if alcohol was prohibited the city could probably reduce the police force by 80%.
Fargo, however, has been tagged by a 24/7 Wall Street study published in USA Today the past few years as one of the country's "drunkest cities."
Recognizing it's a college town and also part of a state where there's a generational tendency to drink often, especially in colder months when outdoor activities can slow down, the two sergeants aren't buying the "drunkest city" label.
What the officers saw in recent years, they said, were fewer fights or assaults and drunken driving arrests.
"I think Fargo is fairly quiet and safe compared to other cities," Wagner said.
Lykken said he believes the city is "just as safe as any city our size, if not safer."
"We just don't see that many problems that you would think would be associated with alcohol when it's deemed one of the drunkest cities," he said. "I've worked in other cities in the Upper Midwest, and I just don't see it.
"Go to Minneapolis on St. Patrick's Day," he said in reference to the other cities. Or perhaps Green Bay, which was No. 1 on the drunkest city list with 26.5% of adults found to drink excessively and 652 bars and restaurants — 204.9 per 100,000 people.
For Fargo, No. 5 on the list, the study concluded that 25.2% of adults drink excessively, and metro area has 433 bars and restaurants — 181.8 per 100,000.
A report submitted to the Fargo City Commission in June listed 197 licensed alcoholic beverage establishments in the city.
With a high number of restaurants serving alcohol, Lykken believes the way people consume alcohol changed with fewer people going to the bars.
Lykken also said he thinks the city is not only safer than 20 years go, but also offers much more for young people and other adults to do, even in the colder months. He listed live music, plays, college events and outdoor skating rinks.
However, he knows that it's a college town where drinking can become a rite of passage. Downtown and other locations in the city on a weekend night can bring out a vast array of college and other young adults.
So do the sergeants have any advice for students?
One is telling students not to order fake IDs online. Lykken said you can order them off the internet from China.
"You will get caught and charged with multiple crimes," Wagner said. "Local bars and liquor stores are really good at identifying fake IDs. A local bar downtown intercepted over 50 fake IDs last year. That's amazing work preventing minors from entering their establishment.
Lykken added that college students' behavior as a young adult "can follow them into adulthood."
"While a fake ID or drinking while a minor is not the most serious crime, employers would probably hire someone without a (criminal) record," he said.
The sergeant noted a dark side drinking in a college town.
"There are sexual assaults in Fargo and many are unreported," Lykken said. "Over-consumption can lead to years of regret."
DUIs can also be blemish on a record, but the sergeants are seeing dropping numbers. They both credit taxis and apps such as Uber and Lyft that make safe rides more affordable and accessible.
Twenty years ago, Lykken said, Fargo police probably saw 1,000 DUIs in a year, but they are now down to the 400 range.
He said officers are often distracted with more service calls for crimes, though, so not as much time is spent watching for DUI drivers, although there are targeted times for increased patrols.
Both Lykken and Wagner added that driving after drinking is not as socially acceptable as it once was.
"I do think younger adults are becoming more responsible in this area," Lykken said.
With those changes in mind, the sergeants believe the bar-saturated downtown area and other parts of the city are "much safer" than 10 or 20 years ago.
Police analyzed where problems most frequently arose to more effectively get ahead of possible issues. For example, at the corner of NP and Broadway where people seem to congregate after bars close downtown, there are at least two to three officers standing nearby providing a "visible deterrence to unlawful behavior."
"The majority of the time, the bar-goers thank the officers for standing out in the cold and being a visible presence," Wagner said.
Lykken added that for every person that "might ridicule us, there are eight or nine who are welcoming and thank us for what we do —sometimes giving us a high five."
"I think downtown is just a fun and vibrant place where people want to be," Lykken said.