There’s no denying that scary crimes keep happening in the aging neighborhoods ringing downtown Fargo on the city’s near- north side. Most recently, in the wee hours of June 7, a barbecue vendor was fatally shot by two men after an altercation that remains murky.
This senseless killing from a hail of bullets happened at the site of the former Sahr’s Sudden Service, which has become a blighted corner since its proprietor closed the service station more than four years ago. That corner, at 4th Street and 6th Avenue North, is well known to police. They’ve been called to the location 11 times in the past five years. The real crime magnet appears to be Steve’s Package Store, located kitty-corner from the abandoned service station, where police have been summoned 194 times over the past five years to address suspicious people, intoxicated troublemakers, assaults and disturbances.
Over the past five years, six shootings or killings have occurred on Fargo’s near north side. Although police insist the area is safe, and most neighbors agree, some residents of the Horace Mann neighborhood, adjacent to the food vendor’s slaying, describe conditions nobody would find tolerable.
One man doesn’t allow his grandchildren to play outside without his presence and reports finding intoxicated people on his front stoop; a man was badly beaten near his home, and he’s become accustomed to the frequent appearance of police cruisers and ambulances.
Another resident, when referring to crime in the neighborhood, put it succinctly: We’re seeing “big city problems” associated with the city’s population growth.
That’s it exactly. Last year, Fargo saw a spike in murders — a record six instead of the usual two or three. A person in Fargo has a one in 245 chance of becoming a victim of violent crime, compared to one in 355 for North Dakota.
Here’s another statistic that is less than reassuring: Fargo is safer than just 12 percent of U.S. cities, according to one analysis of FBI crime statistics.
This is not the kind of “North of Normal” Fargo has in mind. Fargo is gradually turning into “Deadwood” and steadily becoming less like Mayberry.
We’re reminded of the threat that confronted the metro area in the 1990s, when street gangs posed a clear and present danger to public safety. But police joined together and aggressively tackled the problem.
As a result, and thanks to continued police vigilance, gang violence never took root. It’s a shining example of how a concerted, targeted effort can keep a spark from becoming a wildfire.
The related problems of rising crime and urban decay on the fringes of downtown are stubborn and multifaceted; they defy easy solutions.
We don’t profess to have the answers. But we have a lot of questions. Here are some:
Why don’t we see more officers on foot patrol in areas with rising rates of serious crime in the city’s core?
Would taxpayers be willing to pay higher taxes to put more police officers on the streets? Have city leaders taken such a proposal to their constituents?
Why can’t the city forge more partnerships like the one it has with Gate City Bank to do more to keep older neighborhoods from decaying? Can more businesses jump in as sponsors?
What’s stopping the city’s liquor control board from calling in the owners of Steve’s Package Store and demanding that they hire a private security firm to patrol their environs or risk losing their license?
Honestly, what are the repercussions for a liquor store that is responsible for 194 police calls in five years?
Can’t Kilbourne Group accelerate its redevelopment plans for the former Sahr’s Sudden Service site? Surely anything the firm comes up with will be better than the decrepit eyesore that draws criminals and shiftless loiterers.
We worry that city leaders are like the frog resting complacently in a pot that has been brought to a boil so gradually that it isn’t aware of the peril. Because we’ve got a boiling pot on our hands. Does anyone at City Hall notice?