Last year was a 12-month span that upended lives, and those who track crime trends suspect it also probably upended some numbers. Grand Forks Police Lt. Derik Zimmel said that looking back over crime trends in Grand Forks in 2020, there are some notable changes, but it's too soon to know what changes will return to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
Was the 100% increase in noisy party complaints because people were wary of neighbors hosting large crowds? Possibly, Zimmel said.
Was the 18% drop in juvenile calls because more parents were working from home? Could be, he said.
"I think 2020 in a lot of respects, at least in recent history, is unprecedented," Zimmel said. "We don't know what type of impact these things had."
One trend that can be attributed to the pandemic with a reasonable amount of confidence is the rise in fraud complaints, especially unemployment fraud, Zimmel said. In Grand Forks, police charted a 30% increase in such complaints since last year, although it's uncertain whether the rise can be attributed to desperation, opportunism or a mix of the two.
Drugs and narcotics-related offenses rose about 10% since last year, seemingly a continuation of a trend seen in Grand Forks over the last decade.
Zimmel also noted that last year there was a roughly 7% increase in calls for service in 2020 and a roughly 7% decrease in the number of incident reports officers took. Although it may seem unusual for those numbers to depart from one another, Zimmel said they're only loosely related. Not every call for service warrants an incident report, so the number of reports taken is, essentially, random.
The increase in the number of calls for service is in line with a rise seen over the past years, Zimmel said. The increase is to be expected as the city's population grows, but he also likes to think it indicates a healthy, trusting relationship between the city and its police department.
He hopes that by the end of 2021, the pandemic will have subsided and numbers will have stabilized, allowing a clearer picture of COVID-19's impact to emerge. But he suspects that might not happen until sometime in 2022.
Other 2020 Grand Forks crime stats of note include a total of 31 rape complaints, or about a 19% increase from the normal range in the mid to high-20s over the last few years, and a total of 14 robbery complaints, or a 39% decrease to the lowest number seen since 2011.
There were three murders in Grand Forks in 2020, up from one in 2019, matching the single-year decade high also seen in 2018. In 2020, those murder victims were Cody Holte, a Grand Forks police officer killed in a shooting in May; Lola Moore, a 61-year-old Grand Forks woman killed in her home in the same shooting; and Jeffrey Shulzitski, a 55-year-old man killed in a Grand Forks motel room in December. All three cases remain open.
And the past year underscored the human relationships between law enforcement and the community in a way that isn't necessarily reflected in the statistics. Nationwide, the police story of the year was the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, which sparked the largest wave of racial justice protests since the civil rights movement, including in Grand Forks.
But locally, the story of the year was the the death of Holte, just days after Floyd, and the way Grand Forks residents rallied to show support of their local department and peacefully mourned the deaths of both men at the same time.
"We work very hard to maintain a very positive and trusting relationship with the community," Zimmel said. "I don't want to lump us in with agencies that don't work as hard, and don't have as good of a relationship with their community. So, one thing that I want to give the community full credit and heartfelt gratitude for is the way they responded this spring and summer, when the protests were happening across the country, and the greater Grand Forks community ... said, 'That's not us, that's not our agency,' and instead, 'We lost one of our own, and we are going to care for our first responders in a time of need.' That was the response that we recognized."