Fargo police to reinstate traffic safety unit after decrease in stops
Chief David Zibolski said he would like to dedicate six officers to the unit in hopes of freeing up other officers to answer other calls for service.
FARGO — The Fargo Police Department plans to reinstate a group of officers dedicated to traffic safety and stops.
Chief David Zibolski told The Forum last week he would like to launch a traffic safety unit this upcoming summer, if he is able to fill the 16 vacancies on his force. Six officers would be dedicated to the traffic unit, including one sergeant to oversee the group.
“We definitely need that traffic safety unit in place,” Zibolski said. “As the city grows, we really need to have a dedicated unit for that.”
The move comes after a sharp dip in traffic stops by Fargo police.
From June 1, 2021, through May 31, 2022, police made 6,835 traffic stops, a 41% decrease from June 2020 through May 2021, according to the agency's midyear report that was released Nov. 30.
As of Tuesday, Dec. 12, officers issued 6,695 traffic citations for the year, according to statistics from the city.
That’s compared to 9,381 in total for 2021, or a 29% decrease. Officers wrote 8,933 tickets in 2020 and 13,682 in 2019.
Zibolski attributed the decrease to fewer officers being able to patrol the city. The police department has 170 officers, Zibolski said, but he noted the department has had to train a lot of new officers this year.
“We were short-staffed, obviously,” he said. “It’s not a unique problem, but it does affect proactive police work.”
The increased amount of calls also has given officers less time for traffic enforcement, Zibolski said. Having more boots on the ground would allow for more officers to patrol the city for traffic safety, but also free up officers to investigate other calls, he said.
The ultimate goal is to have police represent 1.6% of the Fargo population, Zibolski said. That means adding 21 officers to the force, he said.
“I don't think anyone would argue with the fact that for many years, our department has just been understaffed, for a variety of reasons,” he said. “We certainly do not have enough personnel for the amount of work that there is to do.”
The Fargo Police Department had a group of officers dedicated to traffic safety, but it was disbanded in 2016 under Chief David Todd’s tenure. Zibolski took over in late 2020 after Todd retired.
Zibolski said he isn’t sure why the traffic safety unit was eliminated at the department, but reinstating it is part of a larger strategic plan for the police department, he noted.
The police department kept its motorcycles and worked to get officers certified to use them on patrols in the city starting this year, he said.
The department also is bringing in technology to help clear calls faster, Zibolski said.
The Moorhead Police Department does not have a traffic unit, Capt. Deric Swenson said. It uses funding from the Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths initiative to cover extra patrols, he said.
“However, with short-staffed shifts, it’s not an easy thing for officers to cover when they are already covering overtime shift shortages,” Swenson said.
Moorhead officers made 4,887 stops as of Friday this year, a 25% increase from the 3,924 stops conducted last year. That’s slightly up from the 4,695 stops initiated in 2020, but down about 40% from the 8,183 stops made in 2019.
West Fargo has one officer dedicated to its traffic enforcement unit, which was created this year, city spokeswoman Addisen Stewart said. The West Fargo Police Department plans to add a second officer to the unit next year, she said.
The unit was created to address an increase in traffic complaints, West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness said.
"The traffic enforcement unit provides dedicated officer(s) to address those concerns in a timely manner and have a positive impact on overall traffic safety through high visibility enforcement in areas that are prone to traffic crashes," he said in an email to The Forum.
As of Friday, officers in West Fargo have initiated 7,234 traffic stops this year, or about 12% down from the 2021 total of 8,232. That’s also down from 9,386 in 2020 and 9,812 in 2019.