Noem strikes nerve with debate response about downtown Sioux Falls violence

Published: Jun. 1, 2018 at 10:52 PM CDT
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During Thursday night's final gubernatorial debate between Attorney General Marty Jackley and Congresswoman Kristi Noem, Noem struck a nerve saying downtown Sioux Falls is more dangerous than other metro areas.

"Sioux Falls, here in downtown, is much more dangerous and has more violent crimes than Lincoln, Nebraska, Omaha, Nebraska, Fargo, North Dakota -- than other regional cities that are larger than Sioux Falls," Noem said Thursday.

"I was livid, very, very livid," said former executive director of Main Street Sioux Falls Carole Pagones. "I think Kristi Noem needs to publicly retract that statement."

Pagones said even when she arrived here up for the challenge of transforming downtown, it was never particularly dangerous.

"When I came here in 1991, even when the sidewalks were vacant after 5:30, except for 'loopers' and young groups hanging out, it wasn't dangerous," Pagones said.

Pagones said if Noem wants to be South Dakota's next governor, she needs to back up her claims.

"Either she's ill-informed or she just made it up," Pagones said. "I doubt that she could explain that anywhere. I'm sure the police department won't substantiate that at all."

And they didn't.

"We are using the parameters, the same thing that the downtown association uses," said Ofc. Sam Clemens.

Clemens said it depends on whose definition of "downtown" you use, but for police purposes, the boundaries are from 14th and N. Minnesota, to 5th and N. Main, north to E. Falls Park, east to 6th and N. Weber, then a little further east to 7th and S. Franklin Ave.

He said some people rope the surrounding areas into downtown, such as Pettigrew Heights, which has some history of violent crime over the last few years, something police have worked hard to curb by saturating the patrol area and building relationships with residents.

Clemens said they also saturate the downtown area with police in patrol cars, on foot and on bicycle during the nice weather, in order to not only build relationships with the people who live, work and own businesses downtown, but also as a presence to deter crime.

And the area police define as downtown, hardly sees any violent crime at all.

"Really, the big problems downtown are caused by transients," Clemens said.

The FBI divides crime into "part 1" and "part 2" offenses,"part 1" -- the most serious crimes such as rape, murder, assault, robbery, burglary and auto theft -- are all on the decline over the past four years.

Statistics for 2018 are not yet available, but in 2017, the downtown area say 121 assaults, 15 burglaries, two kidnappings, nine rapes, five robberies and 47 stolen vehicles.

Clemens said those numbers include every report the department takes, whether or not the crime actually occurred.

On the other hand -- the less serious crimes are on the rise. The number of disorderly subjects, narcotics violations and intoxicated subject arrests -- are all on the rise.

Clemens said while from time to time those more serious crimes do occur, the majority of arrests downtown are a result of alcohol or drugs.

"There's different assaults that may happen where there are drunk people, and they're fighting, and engaged in different types of behavior," Clemens said. "But really, you can get those at pretty much any establishment where they're serving alcohol, especially if they're going to be open late at night."

Pagones said her main concern was hearing from several dowtown business owners they were upset about Noem's comment.

"I've had three phone calls from business owners downtown," Pagones said. "Every property owner, every business owner and anybody who lives downtown should be upset."

"It [downtown] still is fragile," Pagones said. "Any kind of hint that it's a dangerous place just drives people away from it."

Pagones helped drive the downtown development small business loans in order to fill the downtown storefronts, which were 80 percent vacant when she arrived. By the time she retired in 2008, downtown was less than 15 percent vacant.

"For her to carelessly make such an erroneous statement, she needs to retract it," Pagones said.

"It's the heart of our city," Pagones said. "Downtown is a wonderful, wonderful, thriving place, has some of the most fun shops anywhere -- anywhere in the state for that matter."

KSFY News reached out to Rep. Kristi Noem for clarification on her source for the information she stated in Thursday night's debate.

A spokesperson sent over an Argus Leader story from January 2017, which includes the information in a statement, then includes a graph with statistics attributed to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report (UCR).

Clemens explained that while every police agency in the country submits their statistics to the FBI, every state has different laws and so it's difficult to make a completely accurate comparison between cities in different states.

The full statistics and a map of downtown are attached to this story.