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Forum Editorial: The downtown Fargo police substation needs to be more than symbolic

Fargo leaders should make it a priority to provide regular, meaningful staffing for the new downtown Fargo police substation to better address a variety of issues.

Editorial FSA
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Fargo just celebrated the opening of a police substation downtown in the Mercantile Building at Broadway and Fourth Avenue North.

Opening the substation signifies the return of a brick-and-mortar presence of the Fargo Police Department to downtown, which it left three years ago when it moved its headquarters outside of the city core for the first time.

A bit of fanfare accompanied the substation opening, including an open house to introduce it to the public.

The substation features eight work stations, equipment storage, conference table, and bike rack. There’s an emergency call button at the top of the entryway that connects a caller to the 911 dispatch center.

But here’s the rub: the substation won’t be regularly staffed. It will serve as a base of operations for events and a place for officers to complete reports, store equipment and take breaks.

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In other words, the sporadically staffed substation is more of symbolic presence than anything else.

It’s obvious that the need for police goes well beyond events. Activity levels downtown have grown steadily in recent years. The city hub hums with entertainment, distinctive restaurants, specialty shops, offices, apartments and condominiums — a place that more than 4,000 residents call downtown home.

City commissioners recently discussed a problem that is plain for all to see: concerns about crime, overconsumption of alcohol and other drugs, homelessness and disruptive behavior downtown.

The former police headquarters at 222 4th St. N. now serves as the city’s Downtown Engagement Center, a drop-in center where people can get assistance, including harm reduction and health care services for the homeless.

Because downtown draws people of all kinds, including those who are homeless and have addictions and other behavioral health problems, it’s appropriate to have accessible services for that population downtown.

But Fargo leaders can’t ignore the obvious problems that cluster in the city’s downtown. City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn was citing the concerns of many when he pointedly raised the issue at a recent meeting , although his regrettably blunt remarks were offensive to many.

Solving the problems downtown will require a multi-pronged approach, sustained over time, including improved access to behavioral health and other supportive services — the very services the Engagement Center is providing.

The city is taking a positive step, for instance, in installing temporary public restrooms in response to the increasing sanitary problem of finding human waste downtown — an increasing problem that eventually should be addressed with permanent public restrooms.

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But a central prong of that multi-pronged approach to ensuring public safety downtown must include a steady and meaningful police presence — one that would be enabled by regularly staffing the downtown police substation.

That requires staffing, and that means money. The Fargo City Commission needs to make finding a way to staff the substation — regularly and meaningfully — one of its top near-term priorities.

This is a stubborn problem that isn’t going away. The downtown substation must be more than a symbolic presence.

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