FARGO — Police Chief David Zibolski, in his eighth month on the job, announced plans to reorganize the Fargo Police Department while presenting the 2020 annual crime report and mid-year update at the Fargo City Commission meeting Monday night, June 14.

Most categories of crime remained stable from 2019 to 2020, he said, but burglaries involving breaking and entering saw a sharp increase.

Burglaries increased from 796 in 2019 to 1,015 last year. Through April of this year, another 340 were reported.

In the other categories, murders were up from five to seven, aggravated assaults increased from 387 to 409, arsons were steady at 26 each year, robberies dropped from 79 to 63, rapes dropped from 92 to 88 and motor vehicle thefts were up from 416 to 495.

The department reorganization, while still a work in progress, was probably the biggest accomplishment in the past year, Zibolski said. The department is working toward a vision of a "safe and unified community built on trust, accountability and inclusion."

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In fact, sitting in front of the City Hall was a police car emblazoned with that new vision statement in big letters that will be placed on all police cars in the future.

Zibolski said he met one-on-one with many in the department and formed a team to reorganize in hopes of providing better policing, an increase in transparency with the community and a better work environment.

The five new divisions are:

  • Neighborhood Services Division with 12 new neighborhood beats in two districts divided into the north and south.
  • Criminal Investigation Division with a change to permanent detectives instead of rotating investigators.
  • Professional Standards Division to allow for quick and consistent review of use of force, pursuits and other conduct issues.
  • Training and Development Unit to improve training and address issues that may arise.
  • Office of the Chief to oversee operations, adding an assistant chief whom Zibolski is in the process of selecting.

City Commissioners John Strand and Arlette Preston were especially concerned about the Professional Standards Division and how it would affect use of force.

Zibolski said they were taking a "deeper dive" into the issue and collecting more data.

Strand wondered if force was used the most on those with behavioral and addiction issues.

The chief said data was lacking, but in his previous position in Beloit, Wis., that was found to be the case.

One of the goals of the new division is to better track and analyze such statistics, he added.

Strand said tracking that data could help as they work on mental health and addiction issues in the city.

Use of force incidents accounted for 0.1% of the 77,477 calls for service last year, Zibolski said, and 1.9%, or 76 incidents, of 4,031 physical arrests. Only one of the incidents involved force that was out of line with police policy, he said.

The report noted chokeholds, which were always considered out of policy, were officially banned in 2020.

Preston asked if new statistics would address race, and the chief said that was part of the increased data collection through a new software program. The department also intends to address racial identities in traffic arrest, he said.

Zibolski said de-escalation would be part of the department's training regimen in the future.

The Neighborhood Services Division, which includes patrolling across the city, was reorganized, Zibolski said. They are revamping officer schedules to put the most cops on the street when calls for service peak in the late afternoons and evenings.

They also are switching to 10-hour shifts to provide more officers with weekend time off and a better balance between work and life, he added.

The police department also changed schedules to provide daily coverage downtown with patrol officers assisting the downtown resource officers more consistently, Zibolski said.

A Community Engagement Team with more officers was formed to provide programming and more interaction with younger people and community members. The team consists of community trust officers, a cultural liaison officer and school resource officers.

Zibolski said a common training day was added to help officers keep up with changes and to prevent scheduling difficulties.

In other facets of the report:

  • So far this year, through April, there were no murder cases reported. The largest number of cases at 1,095 were simple assaults in a domestic situation or against a person with 151 DUI arrests, 296 vandalisms, 158 motor vehicle thefts, 500 more minor larceny cases and 650 drug or narcotic violations or possession of paraphernalia.

  • Zibolski had another priority in his first months of adding body cameras. Axon was selected from seven vendors, and the department anticipates rolling out the products by August. The chief said he would hold community meetings in the coming month to explain how the cameras work as they put final touches on policies for use.

  • Last year, the department responded to 91 possible overdoses with 18 resulting in deaths, a sharp increase from 2019. Each is investigated not for the purpose of filing charges against the victim or the "Good Samaritan" who may have helped the victim but to identify drug traffickers and suppliers, the report said.
  • The newly developed Fargo Police Academy has selected 20 recruits from 108 applicants for the training program that started May 17 and ends Aug. 8. The department hopes to fill vacancies with the graduates. Last year, the department hired seven of the 16 who completed training, with another going to West Fargo and one to the Cass County Sheriff's Department.