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One Fargo commissioner calls to ‘immediately remove’ FPD Chief, another says ‘not so fast’

Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 4:11 PM CST
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - After an anonymous letter penned from someone claiming to be a current officer within the Fargo Police Department surfaced Tuesday night, one Fargo commissioner is calling for the immediate removal of Fargo Police Chief Dave Zibolski.

The letter comes after a meeting on Tuesday morning with Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, City Commissioners and Chief Zibolski was held Tuesday morning to talk about allegations of a toxic environment within the police department.

This past Sunday, Valley News Live reported that 35 officers have resigned from the Fargo Police Department since Zibolski took office in October of 2020.

Exit interviews obtained by Valley News Live detail several allegations including, “Chief Zibolski believed that the FPD were a bunch of bumpkins and that he was here to ‘fix’ us,” one former officer wrote. Another former officer wrote “I do not hate the Fargo Police Department. But I do hate the toxic environment that exists within it.”

The letter sent Tuesday night to City Commissioners is lengthy, but it says in part, “I have worked in Law Enforcement for nearly 20 years under many different leaders. Not one I have served under has had such issues as this Chief. I have never seen such a number of people leave in mass numbers as I have with this Chief.”

In response to the anonymous letter, by Wednesday afternoon, City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn was cited on KFGO radio saying, “I think we should immediately remove Chief Zibolski from his position.”

However, commissioner Tony Gehrig says a decision this big can’t be made based off anonymous letters and a few bad exit interviews. He says he’s instead calling for an improvement plan for both the chief and police department.

“I don’t think we should hang our hats on these exit interviews. I think we should use them as data points. We should recognize we have low morale in our officers. I think that’s pretty clear I think we could obviously say we’re understaffed and aren’t hiring at the rate we should be. And I’m sure there’s other factors we should identify and fix,” Gehrig said.

As of Wednesday morning, Gehrig says there have not been any formal complaints filed against Zibolski within the city. He says in his eyes, the improvement plan is the best of three options; The other two being to do nothing or fire Zibolski, which he says he feels like will only create more problems.

“I don’t think we should assume we’re firing him. We should operate under the assumption that this can be fixed,” Gehrig said.

Gehrig says if improvements aren’t made within a certain timeframe, then a conversation about Zibolski’s employment with the city can come to the table.

Gehrig says he plans to propose the improvement plan and explain all it entails at next Monday’s city commission meeting.

Valley News Live’s previous coverage on this story can be read here, here and here. Tuesday’s anonymous letter can be read in full below:

Question/Comment: Dear Sir,

I am a current police officer in Fargo. My above email address is fake due to my fear of retaliation if I state who I am.

I have worked in Law Enforcement for nearly 20 years under many different leaders. Not one I have served under has had such issues as this Chief. I have never seen such a number of people leave in mass numbers as I have with this Chief.

The Chief's excuse he is giving for the departures is somewhat valid, today's police climate is hard. People leave due to change. However I would estimate nearly all of our departures are primarily due to his poor and dictatorship style of leadership. Many of the people who retired early never would have retired early if Chief Todd was still here. Many people wouldn't have quit had Chief Todd still been here. Morale would be great if Chief Todd were still here.

This new Chief has the mindset of whatever worked in Beliot must work here and WILL work here. He will not listen to those who attempt to give him alternative options. His executive committee feels the same as us line officers, however will not stand up to the Chief. They do what he dictates them to do in fear of being moved to a less desirable position.

Please take note of those comments past employees of Beloit PD had to say about this Chief because they are 100% correct.

I have counted 40 people who have resigned since the Chief took over. 40. And I could be missing a few.

There are numerous times each day where no officers are available to respond to calls. I have an ongoing list of times where officer safety has been compromised, the list of times grows every day.

Officers are being sent to two or three man calls by themselves because no one else is available. Priority 1 and 2 calls are broadcasted in hopes someone can clear from their current call for service and help whomever is calling for the police. This happens numerous times a day. This is not only poor service to the community but is an absolutely huge safety risk to officers. Someone will be hurt or killed if this continues. The Chief knows this is happening and could care less about the service to the community and the safety of his officers.

We do this job because we want to help our community. My ability to do my job is undermined by this Chief and I'm scared to do my job in fear of getting in trouble over some minor mistake I could make. I second guess myself numerous times a day. My anxiety all day long when at work is uncontrollable, I am just waiting for something horrible to happen to one of us. God forbid someone makes a minor mistake. Under this Chief the discipline is extremely harsh and uncalled for. Late for work by a minute- day off unpaid. Have an issue with equipment that you didn't think to report- your K9 spot is ripped away from you. These are just two examples of harsh punishment for very simple human errors that we all make. In any other job, you'd get your supervisor talking to you. Here at FPD, you'll pay for those small human mistakes in a major way. However for the Chief, he can be late for a meeting with you and nothing happens. Because he has the attitude he will and does do what he wants. No one is going to report him for errors, yet we are upheld to report ourselves or others for errors.

I am not alone in the above feelings. I have personally seen officers resign due to the anxiety this Chief has caused, I have seen officers have increased alcohol use due to this Chief, and I have no doubt we have officers who have had suicidal ideations because of the way this Chief has changed this department.

We used to be a place people wanted to work. I wouldn't recommend FPD to my worst enemy. Every thing Chief Todd made right after Ternes is now just gone and we are back to how the morale was under Ternes. Maybe even worse.

The exit interviews most likely did not describe everyone's true feelings of what is happening here. Many people I spoke with were again scared to be honest in their exit interview or were just so done with the job they felt they wouldn't be listened to anyway.

The chief will not permanently change his ways, he will make things look good and he has a great talent to get whatever hot topic he is on moved off track onto something else that is positive in his mind.

Just like he did tonight...started about the morale and then he went into all the so called good he is doing with the body cameras. I won't even bother getting into his scheme plan of the police oversight committee, which really needs to be stopped.

This Chief is under the mentality that he is in charge of the police department and doesn't have to report things of concern to anyone, including the city commission. He doesn't answer to anyone but himself.

To get to the heart of everything that is going on, I urge you to internally investigate this by an outside agency as FPD'S executive committee will just go along and minimize the issues with the Chief.

Thank you for your time in reading this.

I appreciate your push back tonight with the Chief. Because had it not been for you, he would have completely changed the tone of that meeting to all the so called good he is doing. And continued on with his complete lie that morale is good.

What the committee decides to do with this Chief will determine if I continue my time with Fargo PD or I move to another local agency that has leaders who truly care and are not under a nazi regime.

Sincerely,

One of a large majority of FPD cops who need a new leader.

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