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Too fast and residents are furious: Fargo city leaders, police vow to crack down on street racing

Although the town hall was organized to try to hammer out a solution to the issue, changes in state laws that limit law enforcement responses are also needed, City Commissioner Arlette Preston said.

Fargo City Commissioner Arlette Preston speaks to an audience of about 50 people during a May 5, 2022 town hall discussion on racing and noise ordinances on city streets.jpg
Fargo City Commissioner Arlette Preston speaks to an audience of about 50 people during a Thursday, May 5, 2022, town hall discussion on racing and noise ordinances on city streets at Fargo City Hall.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum
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FARGO — More than 50 concerned city residents attended a town hall Thursday, May 5, at Fargo City Hall to discuss cracking down on racing and noise pollution on city streets, saying some areas resembled war zones and that one-way streets were “built-in racetracks.”

The town hall discussion was organized by City Commissioner Arlette Preston, while Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski laid out startling facts about more speeders fleeing police.

Mayor Tim Mahoney and Brenda Derrig, city engineer, were also at the town hall to listen to the complaints and discuss possible resolutions, like road designs, more speed bumps, cameras, increasing police presence and possibly impounding vehicles.

Since 2012, drag racing, racing and exhibition driving has increased, Zibolski said.

“For every 55 traffic stops, one person flees from us. That is a really high ratio,” he said. “Through the first few months this year, our ratio is actually one out of every 22 stops.”

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Additionally, many cases are not getting prosecuted, partly because current laws limit what law enforcement can do, Zibolski said.

“Because of public safety, we don’t chase traffic violators. It’s dangerous for them and it’s dangerous for you,” he said, adding that a fleeing violation is a Class A misdemeanor, with minimal fines and minimal time behind bars.

“They’re hardly getting a penalty. Why would they stop?” Zibolski said.

In 2019, Fargo police issued 1,892 speeding tickets, he said. In 2020, officers issued 1,189 tickets, and in 2021, officers issued 1,903 speeding tickets, with many of those being given out along 12th Avenue North and North University Drive. In South Fargo, violations are primarily along 25th Street, South University and 52nd Avenue.

Elliott Kabanuk has lived in Fargo since 1972. His house is about two blocks east of McDonald's and the old Kmart on University, and the problem has been progressively getting worse, he said.

The noise, especially from “crotch rockets,” begins about 10 p.m. on the weekends, and he’s fearful that this summer, after years of people being “cooped up” due to the coronavirus pandemic, will be worse.

“To me, penalties have never prevented anyone from doing anything. I don’t think penalties are the answer. It will take a citywide answer, from all of us, with our phones. I am surprised more people have not been killed,” Kabanuk said.

Dawn Morgan lives on South University, and the loud racing and popping noises from altered mufflers have awoken her many nights, she said during the town hall.

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“People think it’s gunshots, and that is another scary repercussion because that means ... (they) believe that we’re surrounded by very dangerous people,” Morgan said.

Connie Lillehoff has lived on 13th Avenue North since 1981.

“The last two years have just been torture. It really does affect the whole community, as well," she said.

Additionally, real estate websites like Realtor.com and Zillow have added features called noise indicators, which help potential homebuyers determine street noise levels, Lillehoff said, adding the issue could affect home prices.

“We will devalue our properties if we don’t get on this,” Mahoney said.

“I have been getting a lot of complaints, calls, texts, emails,” Preston told The Forum before the town hall began, adding the problem has been spreading across the country, perhaps because of social media.

Preston has noticed an increasing number of crashes on city streets. “It's really a public safety issue as well as a public nuisance,” she said.

She brought the issue to city commissioners last fall, “but we didn’t get a whole lot of response,” she said, declining to answer why city commissioners were mostly silent on the issue at that time.

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“The whole commission and the mayor, yes,” should be more outspoken about the issue of racing and exhibition driving in the city, Preston said.

At one point during the town hall, Mahoney asked the crowd to raise their hands if they would not object to additional cameras installed across the city, and nearly everyone raised their hands.

Although the town hall was organized to try to hammer out a solution to the issue, changes in state laws that limit law enforcement responses are also needed, Preston said.

“They can’t use cameras, they can’t take a photo of a license plate, and once someone realizes the cop is after them, they just take off, and cops can’t chase them at 100 miles an hour. It’s impossible to catch them sometimes,” she said.

Zibolski said that after the Traffic Safety Unit was disbanded in 2016, fleeing drivers “escalated even more.” He is working to get the department’s motorcycles on the streets during the warmer months to get the Traffic Safety Unit back into operation, as well as cooperating with other law enforcement departments, he said.

One way to crack down on speeders is for officers to shoot a magnet onto the vehicle that flees so they can track it, he said.

“We’re looking at how to up our game. We are going to go after this pretty hard,” Zibolski said.

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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