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Committee recommends Todd to be Fargo's next police chief

FARGO - After what was essentially an 11-month-long job interview, it's now all but certain that interim Chief David Todd will become the appointed chief of the Fargo Police Department.

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Interim Fargo Police Chief David Todd. File photo. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO – After what was essentially an 11-month-long job interview, it's now all but certain that interim Chief David Todd will become the appointed chief of the Fargo Police Department.

A committee tasked with selecting a new chief announced Friday that it will recommend Todd for the position.

"I'm thrilled," said Todd, who started as a patrol officer in 1987. "It's something that I've been working towards."

The selection committee's recommendation must be approved by the City Commission before Todd can officially become chief. The commission is expected to vote on the matter at its Monday meeting.

Todd was named interim chief in November after Chief Keith Ternes resigned amid criticism from officers who said his management style contributed to low morale. The officers vented their frustrations to a committee formed by the City Commission in the aftermath of police Lt. Jeff Skuza's suicide in March 2014. At the time of his death, Skuza was the focus of an internal investigation for trying to cover up an accidental Taser discharge.


At a news conference Friday, Todd discussed this dark chapter of the department's recent history and spoke of how he and his command staff have given officers and other employees more of a say in decision-making within the department.

"I think that has helped our department heal," Todd said. "But we didn't get where we were overnight, and we won't get out of where we were in 11 months. It's going to take longer."

Sgt. Shawn Gamradt, president of the local lodge of the North Dakota Fraternal Order of Police, confirmed that Todd has fostered healing within the department. "I support Dave Todd. I think he's a good chief, and I think he's done good things," Gamradt said.

Since becoming interim chief, Todd has worked with other law enforcement agencies to form a street crimes unit to curb what police said was an uptick in local gang activity. Todd said the unit, created this spring, has "been very effective at disrupting much of that behavior and some of that crime."

Todd said that as interim chief, he felt limited in how much he could change the police force. He said that with the permanence of being an appointed chief, he intends to seek input from his officers to draft a three-to-five-year strategic plan for the department.

'Calm and in control'

More than 20 candidates applied for the chief's position, and the selection committee interviewed three finalists on Thursday and Friday: Todd, Lt. Joel Vettel, who's in charge of the Fargo Police Department's investigations unit, and Capt. George "Rich" Austin, who heads the patrol division of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) Police Department.

City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, a member of the selection committee, said Todd received the highest score during the interviews, with Austin coming in second and Vettel third. Piepkorn said the committee decided Todd was the best fit for the department.


"He's just calm and in control," said Jane Pettinger, chairwoman of the city's Civil Service Commission, who was on the selection committee. "You can tell what he's telling you has come from a deep place, you know, thinking through various ramifications."

Austin said he thought the selection process was thorough and fair. He said he came away from his visit to Fargo with Todd and Vettel as his new cohorts.

"We certainly bonded through this process. It was not what I would call an adversarial type of process at all," Austin said.

Vettel said he was disappointed not to be selected but was enthused to be interviewed. "I know Dave Todd will do a fantastic job," Vettel said. "I'll continue to do whatever role I play in the department to the best of my ability."

Todd and Vettel have said that competing against each other for the position won't create any hard feelings between them. "We're still going to work together and be friends," Todd said Friday. "We're team players."

Before the interviews started, Mayor Tim Mahoney said Todd had an edge over other candidates because he had been able to demonstrate his management style as interim chief. And in the end, that's what put Todd over the top, the mayor said Friday.

"You have a guy who's got a plan, who's got some ideas that were already implemented," Mahoney said of Todd. "You'd have consistency within the department."

Mahoney, who served on the selection committee, said he does not foresee anything that would prevent the City Commission from approving Todd as chief on Monday.


Along with Piepkorn, Pettinger and Mahoney, the selection committee consisted of Officer Kyle Ness and Sgt. Travis Stefonowicz of the Fargo Police Department, interim City Administrator Bruce Grubb and resident Kevin Wilson.

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