VNL Investigates: Police chief’s ‘toxic’ leadership not unique to FPD, former employees allege

“I feel for the officers in Fargo that are going through the same thing.”
Chief Zibolski
Chief Zibolski(KVLY)
Published: Jan. 17, 2022 at 7:00 PM CST
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Several current and former officers in Wisconsin, who worked for current Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski, have come forward today stating his concerning leadership isn’t new, and are calling for action from Fargo officials.

The explosive allegations come after our investigation showed 35 officers have resigned from Fargo Police since Zibolski took office in October 2020. Seven more retired in that timeframe, with several of those officers telling our investigative team that never would have happened if it weren’t for the chief.

The five former employees out of Beloit, Wis., tell our reporter they weren’t surprised in the least to read what many former Fargo Police officers detailed in exit interviews as negative and nightmare-like working conditions due to Zibolski’s ‘lack of leadership.’

“I feel terrible, but I feel like I’m not shocked that he went there and did the same thing. It wasn’t a surprise to read your article to see that many people had resigned and retired early. It’s not a shock at all.” Terry Hanaman, a retired Beloit Police Officer said.

One current Beloit officer, who has been with the department for 16 years stated although Zibolski has been gone for almost two years now, the department is still trying to clean up the ‘deep damage’ Zibolski left behind both morale and staffing wise.

Another current officer in Beloit, who is a 14-year veteran said, ‘It was (Zibolski’s) department. He made everyone feel like we were replaceable. People didn’t want to stay and make a career here because of Zibolski.’

That same officer told our reporter though, he doesn’t think Zibolski has bad intentions or wants to make people upset. However, he says Zibolski ‘thinks he’s the only one who can be right, which creates a lot of tension and a lot of issues.’

“Everything was his way. If you questioned any of his policies, he would shoot you down and say, ‘this is the way it’s going to be.’ That’s 100 percent dictatorship in my opinion,” Hanaman said.

One of the changes officers say Zibolski made was expanding the beat sizes in the city, which meant the department went from a mandatory eight officers on the street to six or less. Beloit’s population is around 36,000 people. Officers say unfortunately, many of Zibolski’s policies and rules are still in place as they save the city money. However, officers say those policies continue to cause a ripple effect on officers’ mental health and burn out.

“We’re trying to fix his mess-ups, but where do you start?” one of the current Beloit officers told our reporter.

Officers say in Zibolski’s nearly five years in Wisonsin, over 30 people left directly because of him which one officer says ‘put officer lives at risk, as well as citizens and now that’s happening in Fargo.’

“A lot of us were happy to see him go when he did leave. Everything we are reading is exactly the same way it was when he was this way,” Hanaman said.

“Change is inevitable with a new chief, but when when you lose a high percentage of officers in a short time you have to look inward. You have to ask yourself if you are the problem, and if you can change otherwise your department will implode,” 29-year-veteran of Beloit Police, John Baumgartner said.

Included in those 30 departed staff were nine civilian staff members in the records department, according to former employee Carol Schaaf. She says Zibolski’s shake up of decades-long set schedules and taking away benefits from her and her record-keeping coworkers, as well as his attitude caused her to retire early in 2019.

In Schaaf’s exit interview she wrote, “I took early retirement from the city of Beloit because it was my best way out of the toxic work environment created at the City of Beloit Police Department by Chief Zibolski and support services.”

Both Schaff and Baumgartner said they worked under six or seven chiefs in their time with Beloit PD, and said Zibolski was ‘the worst by far.’

“And I want to make it clear, there are no axes to grind here. I wasn’t disciplined by him and I’m not looking for revenge,” Baumgartner said. “There is a great cause for concern though with his belligerent behavior and pompous attitude.”

Both added they don’t wish what happened in Beloit, and what’s now happening in Fargo on any department. They say they hope Fargo leaders open an internal investigation immediately.

“If something doesn’t change, the City of Fargo is going to be struggling as bad as we are,” one current Beloit officer said.

A special city commission meeting will be held Tuesday morning for what’s being called ‘an operational update’ on the Fargo Police Department. In a statement this afternoon, the city says the meeting is to allow commissioners and the public to hear directly from the chief and his executive staff on the current status at the department.

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