Fargo area's gun violence in 2021 far exceeds this time last year, Forum analysis finds

Fargo police did not track the number of shootings in their jurisdiction until this year.

Son of man accused of shooting 3 people at downtown bar says dad acted in self-defense
Police examine the scene of a shooting behind the Bismarck Tavern in February 2021 in Fargo. Matt Henson / WDAY
We are part of The Trust Project.

FARGO — Shootings so far this year in the Fargo-Moorhead area have significantly outpaced reports of gun violence in 2020, according to a Forum analysis.

At least seven shootings have occurred so far this year in the metro area, leaving a total of eight people injured and one dead. There was only one shooting in the area as of this time last year, prompting the question of whether the 2021 count will surpass the 2020 total of 12 shootings.

To tally the number of shootings, excluding suicides, The Forum reviewed past news articles and law enforcement press releases because local police departments had not kept data specifically on fatal and nonfatal shootings.

Last week in West Fargo, two children were injured in separate and unrelated shootings. In the Sunday shooting, two suspects were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, though others may be involved, police said. The suspected gunman in the Monday shooting had not been arrested as of Friday.


Police calls involving violence in Moorhead have been up across the board, a trend Moorhead Chief Shannon Monroe said the U.S. has seen nationwide. News reports indicate violent crime jumped last year in larger cities across the country.

“There’s a general sense that there seems to be a little bit more violent crime in the community,” Fargo Chief David Zibolski said.

West Fargo's violent crime dropped by 11% last year, according to the police department's annual report. Fargo's 2020 crime stats are expected to be released soon, and Zibolski said he anticipates the numbers to be similar to 2019. The FBI has not yet released its data on 2020 crime in the U.S.

Moorhead has had two shootings so far this year.

The most recent involved a 6-year-old who was fatally shot after unsupervised children found a gun. No criminal charges have been filed in the case, and no suspects are being sought. Monroe said he couldn't provide more details on the child’s death, but he said it was tragic and preventable.

The other Moorhead shooting involved a man who suffered a gunshot wound to his stomach. It was declared an accident.

In Fargo, an exchange of gunfire between two people at The Arbors apartment complex left one injured in January. The downtown Bismarck Tavern shooting put three people in the hospital last month. This month, a shooting injured a man near East Gateway Circle South. Suspects have been apprehended in those cases.

The Forum's tally of shootings isn’t necessarily all inclusive, though local authorities typically alert news outlets and the public in such cases. Law enforcement agencies are not required to keep tabs on shooting numbers.


Fargo police did not track the number of shootings in their jurisdiction until this year. Zibolski, who became chief in October, instructed his staff to break out data on shootings that result in death or injury, as well as reports of shots fired, starting in 2021.

The goal is to use that information to analyze where crime is happening and determine how to prevent it. “Instead of a shotgun approach, we take a more specific intelligence-led approach to what we are doing,” Zibolski said.

Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski speaks at a news conference Feb. 22, 2021, regarding the Feb. 21 shooting outside the Bismarck Tavern. April Baumgarten / The Forum

Like what Fargo did in previous years, West Fargo enters shootings into its database by criminal code violation, West Fargo Chief Denis Otterness said. Shootings can be labeled as various crimes, including aggravated assault, homicide, attempted homicide and armed robbery.

Fargo had more than 400 aggravated assaults last year, leaving a wide field to search for shooting data, Zibolski said. In an effort to clear more cases and better track shootings, he asked for shooting figures to be broken out.

It's a critical way to measure effectiveness and show officers where criminal activity is more prevalent, Zibolski added. Using data from other crimes, officers have been moved to higher crime areas of the city, the chief said.

Moorhead Police Capt. Deric Swenson said his department tracks shootings, but its records include shootings and reports of shootings that could be something else, like a nail gun going off. The department is using data analysis to better understand and track those numbers, he said.


Moorhead Police Chief Shannon Monroe, center, at a City Council meeting in 2019. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Rare but concerning

Shootings have been rare in West Fargo before this past week, Otterness said. The last homicide and shooting death in the city was in 2018, he said.

"It's easy for me to say how many shootings we have had, we haven't had one for quite a long time,” Otterness said.

West Fargo doesn’t plan to track shootings. However, Otterness said last week he and other law enforcement leaders intend to meet soon to discuss the current climate of a perceived increase in violent crime.

Pinning down the reason for the increase in shootings is complicated, Monroe said. Zibolski said it's too early to determine what is causing the rise in shootings this year.

“Obviously, the first thing that pops to people's minds is, what role has COVID and lockdowns … had to play in it,” Monroe said. “I'm sure there's a factor that's there with people being unemployed, or people being cooped up in their homes, having fewer things to do.”

Monroe also noted anti-police sentiment, which makes officers more apprehensive about having the same level of contact with those they are called to interact with. “I also think police are backing off just a little bit, just being cautious until they see how a lot of this stuff works out,” he said.

Despite the recent shootings, Otterness said he doesn't feel there is an uptick in shooting cases in West Fargo. "Still, I'm very concerned about the level of violence in the last couple of days in the city and the fact that we've had innocent juveniles being struck by stray bullets,” Otterness said.

Denis Otterness.jpg
West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness announces the arrest of two men suspected in a March 21, 2021, shooting that left a child injured by a stray bullet. Barry Amundson / The Forum

Public reporting and education help

Prevention of crimes is done through education, with officers talking with kids in schools, Monroe said. Having officers respond to calls that start small can prevent larger crimes, he said.

Residents should report suspicious activity, Monroe said. Noticing something wrong and reporting it could help officers head a problem off before it turns into a major crime, he added.


Gun owners also can help by making sure weapons are secured properly when not in use, Swenson said. That could help keep guns out of the hands of irresponsible people and prevent accidents, he said.
Zibolski said the metro area is still a safe place to live. "We all want this to be a safe and prosperous city,” he said.

Victim hurt in West Fargo shooting
West Fargo police said a juvenile was shot in the 1500 block of 11th Avenue East on March 21, 2021. WDAY photo

Victim hurt in West Fargo shooting
West Fargo police said a juvenile was shot in the 1500 block of 11th Avenue East on March 21, 2021. WDAY photo

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
What to read next
Erik Schmidt shared with WDAY News the story of how his wife and newborn son tragically passed within days of each other.
Northern Minnesota research published in the journal Nature found modest warming may devastate some tree species.