Fargo police chief says department to make changes to help mental health of officers
The department hopes to recruit and retain more officers and check on their mental health more often.
FARGO — The Fargo Police Department is hoping officers in training, along with police cadets, can help beef up the workforce protecting the city.
In the last year, 25 officers quit or retired. As we reported on Friday, Jan. 14, exit interviews revealed the stress of the job, along with criticism of working conditions, are behind the exodus.
While Fargo Police are trained to handle potentially dangerous calls, according to exit interviews that WDAY News went through after an open records request of officers who quit or retired in 2021, there's a lot they are not ready for.
According to one officer's exit interview:
"Once you become a cop, you change.(...) You become a peace keeper, a gatekeeper and most of all you accept responsibility. What they don't tell you is that when you take that on, you take the stress along with it. You take the pain of the victims, you see the heartlessness of the offenders, you see the hopelessness of addiction, you see the senselessness of mental illness."
It is that increase in stress and concern over mental health that has the Fargo Police Department making changes.
"You need police psychologists, you need people that also understand, similar to military experiences, some of the trauma that our officers experience on a regular basis," said Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski. "We've got a great peer-support team here, but they're limited as well in terms of what they can they do. So part of the officer wellness program that we're rolling out is going to include annual mental health checks."
One veteran officer who quit despite being close to retirement wrote:
"You have cops that are struggling. You have cops that need, need, need help. And yes, you have cops that are one bad day, one bad call, one more argument at home (...) from suicide."
Zibolski says what law enforcement is witnessing nationwide is impacting the number of people wanting to be a cop.
"(I)t's got exponentially worse, really, the last couple of years. 2020, 2021 with the COVID (and) the protests," Zibolski said.
As we reported Friday, many of the exit interviews revealed officers left the department because of work stress and in the words of some, a "toxic work environment." Many pointed a finger at the chief. Now the problem is recruiting and retaining cops, a problem occurring nationwide and here at home.
"We identified several things (...) that new officers want," Zibolski said. "Work-life balance, they want job opportunities in terms of not just being a cop your whole career, and they want a positive work environment."
One officer in an exit interview wrote that the department has a problem identifying PTSD, Burnout and mental health issues.
A 20-year veteran wrote:
"The back door politics and good old boy system has run its course and we are paying for the sins of our fathers. We need a change in culture, a real change, not words on an office door, or squad car hood or department letterhead."