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Forum editorial: BCI report on chase is candid

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North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and the Bureau of Criminal Investigation that reports to him win high praise for BCI’s quick analysis and critique of its actions during a chase last month through West Acres shopping mall in Fargo. The incident involved plainclothes BCI officers with guns drawn. They were pursuing a man wanted on felony charges, who had led Moorhead police on a motorized chase through a golf course.

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Moorhead authorities had been conducting surveillance near a Moorhead home in the hope of arresting the suspect, who was wanted for selling methamphetamine and possessing stolen property. The chase began there, proceeded across a Moorhead golf course and then crossed the river to the area of the Fargo mall. It was there plainclothes North Dakota BCI agents with guns drawn created some panic among workers and patrons in the sprawling shopping center. Fargo police, to their credit, declined to participate in the chase and mall incursion.

To its credit, BCI reviewed the incident in a timely manner and admitted it could have been handled better. Among the findings:

  • Keeping local law enforcement better informed on the plan to make an arrest. Fargo police officials were none too happy they were not informed that BCI intended to enter the mall.
  • Possibly creating a perimeter around the mall, and monitoring the suspect from outside; discussing options for entering the mall, which BCI did not do with Fargo police.
  • Wearing clothing or markings that clearly identified the BCI officers as police. Mall management objected because BCI personnel could have been mistaken for lunatics with guns.

It’s easy to second-guess law enforcement when tense situations go awry. Sometimes quick decisions have to be made. But in this case there were options that should have been considered but were not. The BCI’s report is good news in that it demonstrates that one of North Dakota’s most efficient and professional law enforcement agencies is managed by grownups who are not reluctant to critique, and where appropriate, to criticize their conduct. Such self-analysis makes them better at a difficult job.

Meanwhile, Moorhead police, unlike the North Dakota BCI, have yet to release findings of an internal examination of their part in the chase. It might be that Moorhead’s circle-the-wagons strategy is something like this: Delay it long enough and everyone will forget about it. Not a chance of that happening.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board. 

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