At last week’s Eggs & Issues, the three area police chiefs shared a fascinating—and startling—report on recent crime and drug use in the region. Fargo Police Chief David Todd, Moorhead Police Chief Dave Ebinger and West Fargo Police Chief Mike Reitan covered lots of ground, presenting the packed audience with facts, figures, and even a few heartbreaking stories and heartfelt pleas.
We’ve all heard about a rising number of drug-related deaths in the area, but one thing we don’t hear as much about that the police are seeing is people passed out at a stoplight, in their car, from drug use, and how many times they’re called, along with medical professionals, to try and save individuals that have overdosed.
Todd started the discussion with an overview of heroin and opioid types, uses, sources, and how in many users it escalates to crime and can cross over into a health care concern with needle sharing. When it comes to fentanyl, he says it’s almost impossible not to overdose as its potency is so high–50 times more so than heroin.
The Fargo police are getting serious about this issue. If you sell an opiate to somebody who overdoses and die, you are looking at 20 years to life, and if the police is able to save them with CPR and Narcan, you could be looking at attempted murder. “That being said, we’re not interested in putting people with addiction issues in prison. That doesn’t solve the problem,” Todd said. “We’re interested in getting them the help they need, but we do have to go after the people that are bringing this product into our community.”
In order to crack down on this issue, the Fargo Police has added a few new narcotics detectives to the force.
Ebinger was next up and opened by saying that what we’re seeing is not a law enforcement crisis, but rather a health care crisis, and that as a community, we need to stand together and get better resources to get these individuals healthy.
In Moorhead, officers do not carry Narcan, but the Good Neighbor program does, and Ebinger said they have seen a lot of success with that, as well as with F-M Ambulance.
He also touched on a big concern for his force, which is the current jail. “Our jail is just replete with problems,” he said. “It’s the oldest in the state of Minnesota. That’s a great claim if you’re wanting a museum piece, but if you want to incarcerate people in a community where crime is increasing, it’s not a very good resource for you.”
On top of that, the size and design is no longer in compliance with state standards, and many inmates are being housed in other parts of the state, which creates a very inefficient and costly problem.
The Moorhead police are looking at a proposed joint law enforcement center, which Ebinger believes will be more convenient, efficient and will facilitate collaboration between agencies. Forty percent of the new design would be shared space, meaning taxpayers can save by building once instead of twice.
The cost of all the upgrades is estimated just under $49 million, which Ebinger acknowledges is not a small sum, but says they have a critical need for. To pay for this, the city of Moorhead has agreed to a long-term lease with Clay County, there will be some funds from wind energy and maturing debt, and a half-cent sales tax that will be on the general election ballot this November.
Last, he shared that as our metro is growing so rapidly, they have tracked calls per officer as being way up. “I looked at the numbers this morning, and I was astounded at how much we’re expecting out of [our officers],” he said. “We’re not three small towns on the prairie. We’ve got a lot of issues, and we’re going to need support to grow our departments.”
Reitan also spoke to what his force is seeing in West Fargo, which are the same challenges in our other metro’s cities, and the need to adapt to the changing times.
He spoke of new drugs coming on the scene, including W19, a synthetic drug that was created to tranquilize elephants and rhinos, that is now showing up in Eastern parts of Canada and the U.S. It is 10,000 times more potent than morphine. He also noted shatter hash, a marijuana derivative, that can actually be made at home with instructions found online.
Reitan also addressed unintended consequences, medical marijuana and the ND Compassionate Care Act, noting that an initiated measure of the latter will be on the November ballot.
“The cheapest solution to addiction is education,” he said. “You need to educate people to get them away from sharing narcotics amongst themselves, amongst family members, maintaining narcotics in their homes that are available for others to take. We need to educate this community on what the problem is and what your role is in overcoming what we’re faced with.”
He reported great success by partnering with the schools to proactively address the issues with students and parents. He also said some more community forums will be coming up for us to tackle the issue together. “This issue of narcotics is not a law enforcement issue; it’s not a prosecutor’s issue; it’s a community issue, and we’re going to have to get everybody on board for us to get ahead of it and make our community healthy again.”
After each presentation, several attendees were able to ask questions and share their own stories of seeing drug abuse firsthand, and it became clear that 28 days is not enough for anyone to tackle an addiction.
For more information, check out this media coverage from the event.
— Jessica Lee (@JessicaLeeND) June 7, 2016
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