The violent death of Jay Halvorson, a food vendor who was gunned down near his barbecue rig on the edge of downtown Fargo, was a senseless tragedy. It also could be the spark to improve the safety of an increasingly vibrant downtown surrounded by aging residential neighborhoods.
The simple fact is that Fargo’s crime rate has risen steadily along with the city’s growth. For years Fargo’s violent crime rate was comfortably below the national average. But for the past five years, violent crimes in Fargo have occurred at roughly the U.S. average, sometimes surpassing the national rate.
We’re encouraged to see that Fargo city officials appear to be taking this problem seriously. Public safety is one of the most critical roles for any city. At last week’s City Commission meeting, Mayor Tim Mahoney and Police Chief David Todd outlined steps the city is taking.
Police plan to increase their presence downtown by adding more foot patrols. That will allow officers to come into contact with more people and to build relationships, the police chief said, adding that the increased visibility also is important.
That’s a good start. Those of us who work downtown, and spend a lot of time in the city core, haven’t yet noticed an increased police presence, though we’ve been told that the area is a policing priority.
A grant that will allow more police presence downtown when bars are closing also should help, as long as the grant funding is available.
More fundamentally, the city should take a more active role in overseeing the liquor licenses of bars and off-sale stores that are known sources of high volumes of police calls. We’ve said before that the city should impose conditions on problem license holders.
A liquor license is a valuable asset. The city shouldn’t flinch from suspending — or even revoking — a license for a bar or package store that fails to address problems. The mayor should move quickly to implement his suggested public meetings with license holders to devise improvement plans.
Mahoney also suggested that the city could increase the property tax mill levy by one mill — that would cost the owner of a $250,000 home $10.69 per year — and would raise $562,000.
That’s enough money to hire seven more police officers. Property owners should consider that a bargain. Fargo’s police ranks haven’t kept pace with the city’s growth. This would allow police staffing to catch up.
The mayor is offering a great deal. Taxpayers should take it to make the city safer.
But politicians are loathe to increase taxes, and Mahoney urged residents to talk to city commissioners and staff about the issue.
Make your voices heard at City Hall. Tell your city commissioners that you support a minuscule property tax increase to put more cops on the street. Jay Halvorson’s killing was senseless. It doesn’t have to be meaningless.