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Fargo's first air patrol to brake street racing leads to nearly 100 stops

Fargo police worked with other metro area departments, along with the use of the Highway Patrol's airplane, to target areas prone to street racing.

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A Cass County sheriff's deputy stops a group of motorcyclists on Friday, May 20, after a North Dakota Highway Patrol airplane flagged their driving habits.
Contributed / Fargo Police Department
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FARGO — In a first for Fargo, law enforcement is waving the red flag to street racing in a new and unexpected way.

A few weeks ago, Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski made a pledge to city leaders and residents during a special town hall that his department would put the brakes on dangerous driving.

"If we can change that traffic behavior, especially with those engaged in the dangerous driving, that's the goal," Zibolski said.

Fargo police used the North Dakota Highway Patrol airplane to patrol areas prone to racing in the city.

"We have a full forward-looking infrared (camera) on our plane that can zoom in from about 5 miles away," said Highway Patrol Captain Bryan Niewind.

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In all, 100 traffic stops were made during the five-hour detail Friday night, May 27. Some were for minor violations; others were more serious.

"(T)here were individuals that we were stopping for exhibition driving, drag racing — those things people have been complaining about," Niewind said.

The violation is spotted in the air, then an officer in the plane radios to officers on the ground.

"Our equipment can keep following one specific vehicle or one group of vehicles and direct our officers right to where they're at," Niewind said.

"They're flipping wheelies, they're racing — we can record that and then utilize it for court," he said.

The goal is to prevent all drivers — both guilty and innocent — from being hurt or even killed.

Back in March, a teenage motorcyclist ended up underneath a burning car after a crash on a popular racing spot in the city. Witnesses were able to lift the car off the teen just in time.

"Most likely, those two people were racing that day, so that's an investigation we have taken on for that. We have not charged anything out with that yet, because it's still an open investigation, but that's the type of problems we can have. We can have crashes like that happen, and we want to prevent them from happening before they do happen," Niewind said.

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Zibolski said tracking the problem from the air will continue.

"On different days, at different times, so people won't necessarily know when the plane is up (and) when the plane's not up," he said.

In general, traffic stops are way up in Fargo — by 24% in May compared to April. Nearly 600 citations were issued in the month of May for various traffic violations.

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at mhenson@wday.com and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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