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LIVE AT 11 a.m.: Fargo leaders to address police morale issues at Tuesday meeting

Media reports have revealed heavy out migration of police officers.

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Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski talks Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, about his first year on the job.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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FARGO — Recent media reports outlining what appears to be a large out-migration of officers from the Fargo Police Department will be the focus of an informational meeting of city commissioners set for 11 a.m. Tuesday.

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said Monday in a written statement that he called for and organized Tuesday's meeting to afford commissioners and members of the public the ability to hear directly from Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski and his executive staff on the current status of departmental operations.

Mahoney said it was important "to ensure these perspectives were heard and considered in ensuring a proper reflection upon the department’s body of work, staffing and current conditions."

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Recent media reports addressing department morale include a report by WDAY's Kevin Wallevend that aired on Friday Jan. 14 and also appeared on inforum.com .

The report indicated that in 2021, 25 officers left the police department and that according to two employee exit interviews, 33 people have left the police department in the last 14 months.

West Fargo and Moorhead police told WDAY they typically have five or six openings at any given time.

Wallevand's report said one police officer described the situation as "hemorrhaging from the inside."

Zibolksi, who has been chief about a year and a half, told WDAY that Fargo is experiencing what police departments across the country are going through — officers want out.

Zibolksi said police resignations are up in many places, which he said indicates to him that it's never been more difficult to be a police officer, or for police departments to find people who want to work in law enforcement.

According to the WDAY report, multiple exit interviews included criticism of Zibolski, including this statement from one former officer who wrote: "Chief Zibolski believed that the FPD were a bunch of bumpkins and that he was there to 'fix us.'"

Another officer wrote, "Loyal officers were confused, worn out and defeated," according to the WDAY report, which also found support for the police department.

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"Keep supporting the police department in this difficult time. Add more officers," said one document obtained by WDAY.

Shannon Roers Jones, a state legislator who has announced her candidacy to run for the job of Fargo mayor, issued a statement Monday taking note of recent media reports regarding morale at the Fargo Police Department.

"We’ve highlighted from day one the need to support our frontline law enforcement and first responders," Jones said in the statement, adding: "These reports are alarming. As Fargo’s finest are leaving by the dozens and our police presence could be down by nearly half during any given shift, I have one simple question: where is Mayor Mahoney?”

City Commissioner Tony Gehrig said Monday he would reserve comment until the meeting, when he said Zibolski will be given a chance to address concerns aired in media reports.

Gehrig did say, however, that information in the reports sounds concerning and if true should require action on the part of city officials.

Commissioner Arlette Preston commented on the news reports in written form Monday, stating she has been involved in the transition of two police chiefs who were hired from outside the department and who followed a long tenure by a previous chief, one being Zibolski and the other Chris Magnus.

"There is value in bringing in a new perspective in any leadership position. That's not to deny the importance of having people with historical information — it's important to have both," Preston said, adding that Zibolski has introduced many initiatives to make the department run more efficiently.

"That includes increasing the training of officers on an ongoing basis and changing the scheduling process to best use the people he has in his department. He is working on increasing transparency and has initiated a citizen advisory board. All changes that were needed and are positive for the department," Preston said.

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Police departments across the nation are feeling pinched, Preston added.

"I don't know exactly what the numbers are on the national level, but when it all shakes out, I'm thinking the vacancy rate here will not be out of line," she said, adding: "I appreciate what Chief Zibolski has done in his short tenure in Fargo and I'm looking forward to his continued leadership."

Commissioner John Strand said Monday that he was on vacation and wasn't sure he would be able to attend Tuesday's meeting virtually.

He said he had seen some of the reporting having to do with officers leaving the police department but he said he had limited information about the potential reasons.

Strand said city officials received an anonymous letter some time ago regarding morale and retention issues at the police department and he said such concerns are worthy of attention.

Strand added that the city is seeing turnover in many departments including bus services.

"It's not just the police department," he said.

Attempts to reach commissioner Dave Piepkorn for comment Monday were not successful.

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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